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DUBNER: You don’t push it. You punch it. Come on! 

*      *      *

DUCKWORTH: I’m Angela Duckworth.

DUBNER: I’m Stephen Dubner.

DUCKWORTH + DUBNER: And you’re listening to No Stupid Questions.

Today on the show: Where is the line between a role model you admire and a competitor you envy?

DUBNER “Good for them. I’m so glad that they’re more successful than I am!” 

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DUBNER: Angela, we recently received an interesting email from Tricia, who says, “Why do humans seem to need to see, quote, ‘someone like me’ in order to feel they can achieve something? There is no one, quote, ‘like me’ except me. So, if I truly want to do something, I will do what I can to do it. Where does that ‘like me’ come from?”

DUCKWORTH: Let me just say to Tricia — when you say, “There is no one like me except me.” I mean, no, there are a lot of people who are like you!

DUBNER: Oh, really? I thought she was 100 percent right on that.

DUCKWORTH: Look, there is no other Tricia. And, you know, I’m not just giving Tricia a hard time. But there are people who have some resemblance to Tricia in their personality and character — in their gender and their ethnicity. I don’t want to get Talmudic here, but I’m kind of feeling like there are so many times where we see somebody and we say, “Oh, they’re like me,” and we don’t mean they are exactly us. We just mean that we share something in common.

DUBNER: I think what you’re saying is demonstrably true-ish, but I also think that she’s making a nuanced point, which is: wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute. Individuals are individuals. And therefore, suggesting that I should emulate someone that is, quote, “like me” just isn’t really very satisfying, because who cares if they’re the same, you know, fill-in-the-blank identifiers: racial, ethnic, religious, gender, and so on. I may have a lot more in common with someone that I don’t look anything like. So, I think your advice is true, but I think what she’s rebelling against a little bit is getting advice like that and wanting to feel like it should fit her better. But I was actually thinking about this email recently when I was spending many, many, many, many hours in synagogue over Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, because among the many sins that we Jews are collectively told to atone for during this time is coveting. And believe me, if you want to read the list of all the sins that we atone for, it is like a catalog of the human condition.

DUCKWORTH: Lots of “don’ts.” Not so many “dos.”

DUBNER: But the reason we atone for coveting is that right there in the Ten Commandments — I believe it’s number 10 — are the instructions to not covet your neighbor’s stuff or your neighbor’s spouse. So, coveting — plainly, not a good thing. I’ve also heard a lot of people say  that comparing yourself to others is also no good. So, Tricia’s email got me spinning around, because “coveting, no good,” I get. “Comparing yourself to others, no good,” I get. But what she’s saying — and what you are kind of reinforcing — is that role modeling is a form of comparison that’s actually really fruitful and a lot of people encourage it. So, in my brain, I kind of mashed up her idea and the Ten Commandments. And I came up with this question for you. Is it okay — even advisable — to compare myself to someone else, as long as I don’t covet? And assuming that your answer is yes, how do you suggest that Tricia, or I, or anyone, can engage in, let’s call it “non-covetous comparison.”

DUCKWORTH: I love this image of you spending hours, and hours, and hours in synagogue.

DUBNER: Hey, you’re welcome anytime.

DUCKWORTH: Are you allowed to go if you’re not Jewish? 

DUBNER: You are very much allowed to go. You’re actually even encouraged to go.

DUCKWORTH: Is that right? I did not know that. Okay. My answer to this question, “Is it okay to compare myself to others as long as I don’t covet?,” is yes. But I think it’s an interesting and deep question though. It’s not something that comes naturally, I think, to a lot of us. Like, when we compare ourselves to others whom we admire, it’s not “comparing downward,” as social psychologists would say. It would be “comparing upward.” It’s not easy to do that without coveting or, frankly, a bunch of other, you know, not so savory emotions, slash, thoughts. We’ve talked about this kind of social-comparison instinct that people have. I really do think it’s like a reflex. It’s like putting your hand on a stove. You just cannot not compare yourself. It’s spontaneous, and I think it’s useful. Like, how do I know whether my test score is good or bad if I don’t know how other people did? But I think the emotional sequence that happens after you compare yourself to somebody is fascinating, because it actually does seem to unfold in stages. So, thinking about a recent article in J.P.S.P. — it’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. This article was published in 2018 and it’s called “The Painful Duality of Envy: Evidence for an Integrative Theory and a Meta-Analysis on the Relation of Envy and Schadenfreude.” Now, you probably know more about schadenfreude than I do.

DUBNER: Oh, thanks a lot. That’s very nice of you to say.

DUCKWORTH: No, because it’s like the kind thing you would not do, but certainly that you would know about. It’s definitely in your brain, right?

DUBNER: I mean, I am pretty interested in schadenfreude, but I think most people are. I love schadenfreude stories so much that I actually recently bookmarked one, because I wanted to not forget it. It’s a very simple story. Can I share it with you though? This was just on Reddit. I don’t know if you ever read Reddit.

DUCKWORTH: Occasionally.

DUBNER: I find it fun to dig in once in a while. So, this is from somebody on Reddit. I’m sorry, I don’t have their handle handy, but it says: “My wife was sick one morning, and I went out to get her medicine and return a D.V.D. to a Redbox machine.”

DUCKWORTH: Wow. This was from, like, 1904.

DUBNER: So, for those who don’t know, a Redbox machine was, I guess, pre-Netflix.

DUCKWORTH: For those who don’t know, a D.V.D. was how we used to watch things.

DUBNER: Exactly. It was a computer disc that had a movie on it, and you would get it from a red vending machine, like, in a supermarket, I guess.

DUCKWORTH: Yeah. They were usually outside the — like, where the flower display was.

DUBNER: So, this guy is going to return a D.V.D. to a Redbox machine while getting his wife medicine, because she’s sick. He writes: “There was a couple with their child browsing the movies at the Redbox machine. After waiting five minutes patiently, I told them that my wife was sick, and I asked if I could quickly return my movie, since it would only take 15 seconds. In a very b****y tone, the wife told me that I could just wait my turn. I did wait a couple minutes, and the child starts crying because the vending machine does not have Gnomeo and Juliet, and he doesn’t want to watch Cars 2 again. I then turned to the mother and show her that I was here to return Gnomeo and Juliet, but I can’t wait any longer since my wife is sick. So, I hopped in my car as the kid falls to the ground in a screaming, kicking temper tantrum.” That’s schadenfreude.

DUCKWORTH: It’s also karma. It’s so many things. Interesting. Okay. So, it is taking some joy in the pain of another person — not like sadism, but more like the pain of another person who is a rival or a bad person in your life in some way. 

DUBNER: Or has given you reason, perhaps, to not root for their best interests, let’s say.  

DUCKWORTH: So, this article is less about schadenfreude and more about envy and it’s, you know, it was so interesting to me, because what the data are saying is that when we make a comparison upward to somebody who is, I don’t know, more beautiful, a better speaker, smarter, more popular, the first thing that happens is pain. So, there’s a kind of envy, which is this flash of pain, where we realize that we are inferior to that other person in some dimension. It’s not like it’s premeditated. It just happens. I mean, I’ve confessed to you before my Adam Grant envy — Adam Grant, of course, my colleague at Wharton, and also a organizational psychologist.

DUBNER: I remember that.

DUCKWORTH: I think Adam Grant also remembers that. 

DUBNER: And the fact that you can speak about it so candidly is really interesting and impressive to me.

DUCKWORTH: Well, I feel like what happens next in this sequence is actually maybe revealing, because that initial pain, like, “I wish I had whatever Adam has now, like, three bestselling books. I wish I had a more impressive, you know, way of communicating with large audiences through Twitter.” Okay, so the next stage is one of two things. I can either have this benign response, which is, “How can I learn from what Adam does?” — or like, “Wow, that’s so impressive.”

DUBNER: Even your tone of voice indicated that your envy is not totally benign.

DUCKWORTH: Well, what’s interesting is that benign envy isn’t necessarily cheerful or positive. So, the scientists in this investigation, who I should say who they are — Jens Lange, Aaron Weidman, and Jan Crusius — they say that when you have benign envy following the first moment of painful envy, right? Because that happens without much time passing at all — it’s not necessarily, like, cheerful and rose-hued.

DUBNER: Like, “Good for them. I’m so glad that they’re more successful than I am!” 

DUCKWORTH: It’s really just that there’s some positive or neutral meaning that you’re taking, and also that you’re motivated to do something, like work on your own book. So, it doesn’t have to feel good. And I don’t think they think it does feel good. I think that benign envy, even though it sounds like it should feel great, is really mostly to be distinguished from malicious envy, where you want that other person to suffer or you want them to do worse.

DUBNER: Okay, so as I’m envisioning it, there’s a little bit of a choice tree here — that you hear something, or you learn something, about someone else, you feel some pain, and then you can go either the benign-envy route or the malicious-envy route. Is that the best you can hope for?

DUCKWORTH: Yeah. Pretty much. Is that not good enough for you? Is that — I don’t know, I kind of feel like this benign thing is good. Like, you have this, like, extra kick in your step. You’re like, “I’m going to do better.” 

DUBNER: I see here it’s called the “pain-driven dual-envy theory.” I guess I was hoping it might be called the “pain-driven tri-envy theory” or something like that, in that there’s, like, benign envy where you still feel envious; there’s malicious envy, as you put it, where you, maybe, actively feel bad or do something bad about it; but then, I thought you were going to hit us with some, like, “Oh, but there is the role-model version of this where you look at this person and say, ‘Oh, I’m not in competition with this person. I’m just observing them as a practitioner of something that I practice, and therefore, they’re a terrifically valuable resource to me.'” Does that not exist in the “dual-envy theory” tree?

DUCKWORTH: I think these researchers are really, um —

DUBNER: Depressed?

DUCKWORTH: Em, no! I think, I think —

DUBNER: Angry? Envious?

DUCKWORTH: I think they are — they are nuanced, Stephen. And they say, “Hey, there are these other seemingly identical but distinct things that you could feel.” Like, you could just feel admiration for somebody, right? When you go to a Beyoncé concert or, like, you listen to Taylor Swift, you know, do you feel the pain of envy? No. You just are like, “Wow, she’s amazing.” You know, Bob Cialdini talks about “basking in reflected glory” — the idea that, like, if you have somebody that you identify with, you can almost get their feeling of accomplishment, just vicariously. So, all these emotions are possible. What I really liked about this way of thinking about it, is that if you do a kind of, like, time lapse, slowing down of your emotions, you’ll see that it’s not just one thing. You know, depends on when you want to stop the footage.

DUBNER: Fair enough. And I would imagine that the typical response would be to feel pain. I, too, am human, and I totally, totally get that. But then, when you’re talking about benign and malicious, I kept wanting there to be, you know, another option, or at least some mediating factor. But the minute you said about the time-lapse movie, it brought some memories of speaking with my friend Angela Duckworth, who said that sometimes the first and most important thing to do when you’re trying to solve a problem — especially when you’re right in the middle of something emotional — is to notice it. Just to notice what you’re doing, notice what you’re feeling, and acknowledge that feeling before you act on it. 

DUCKWORTH: You know, beyond noticing, there’s having a language for what you’re seeing, or what you’re feeling, and saying to yourself, like, “Oh, there’s that first twinge of envy, which is painful, just like the J.P.S.P. article said.” I think there’s a lot of research from emotion regulation that suggests that you can direct this play a little bit. Like, okay, well, do you want it to shade into admiration and motivation, or do you want it to shade into something greener and darker? So, you can notice, you can name, and I do think you can direct, at least to some extent. And for me, when I read this, I recognized what they meant when they said there’s that, like, twinge of, “I’m inferior. Ouch.” I have academic envy all the time. I read somebody’s article and I think, like, “Oh my God —.” I send them to Katy Milkman all the time. Like, “Oh my God, I’m pea green. I just wish I had published — that’s such a creative idea.” But with that energy, and with time, and then with me responding by doing more stuff, or different stuff, emotions change yet again. And sometimes I have just plain, old Taylor Swift admiration.

DUBNER: Okay. So, first of all, Taylor Swift is not in your cohort. So, you don’t have to be envious of her, right?

DUCKWORTH: I don’t. Her new album, apparently, is amazing, by the way.

DUBNER: But you’re not envious. You can appreciate it.

DUCKWORTH: I am not.

DUBNER: Because you’re not in competition with her. You said that you’d say to Katy that you’re “pea green” with envy. Let me commend you that you were pea green and not hunter or emerald green, which are deeper greens, so that connotes that you’re not as envious as you could be.

DUCKWORTH: We need Pantone colors for envy. 

DUBNER: So Angie, I am really curious to hear from our listeners about, let’s say, it’s an instance when you benefited from comparing yourself to someone or something. Make a voice memo with your phone. Just record it in a quiet place and send it to us, Maybe we can share it in a future episode. 

Still to come on No Stupid Questions: how having a role model “like you” can affect your future success.

DUCKWORTH: I identify with people who grew up in Southern New Jersey and went to a large suburban high school.

DUBNER: You identify with them, or you envy them? Just to clear that up.

*      *      *

Now, back to Stephen and Angela’s conversation about social comparison and role models.

DUCKWORTH: I think there’s a fundamental issue here, which is: you know, how do we deal with this social-comparison reflex? And just getting back to the first thing Tricia asked: “Why do humans need to see someone like me?” I think it’s important that when Tricia asks this question, she is asking about: how is it that we need to see someone like me in order to feel like we can achieve something? That is foundational to a lot of old research, but there’s really new research on modeling —.  

DUBNER: Well, before you even do that, let me back up and unpack what you just said. You said this “notion is foundational to old research” — the foundation being what? That we do really strictly follow or adhere to role models who do, quote, “look like us” — gender, race, religion, et cetera?

DUCKWORTH: So, the old research I’m referring to is Al Bandura, and now this goes back more than a half-century. But the context is that, at the time, Al Bandura’s at Stanford University and psychologists don’t really believe that we learn by watching anything else happen — we don’t learn vicariously; we only learn from our own punishment and reward. And this goes back to, like, behaviorism. You know, how do you get a rat to, like, learn a maze?

DUBNER: Give him a sandwich!

DUCKWORTH: Give him a sandwich. Cheese sandwich, presumably! No. You don’t let the rat watch another rat solve the maze. The rat’s own experience is the only thing that matters. So, Al Bandura comes along and thinks, “This is a bunch of hooey.” He’s like, “No. So much, if not the preponderance, perhaps, of human learning is vicarious.” I watch you, like, make a batch of soup. And I, you know, then make the soup myself, and of course I can learn from another person. He did have these experiments where girls and boys were watching role models of either male or female gender. They were adults. But what he found in his data, first of all, affirmed his intuition that we can absolutely learn vicariously. He had these, like, stunning demonstrations where kids would watch an adult do something with a toy.

DUBNER: Oh, the Bobo Clown or whatever that was where they beat him up.  

DUCKWORTH: The Bobo Doll studies. Like, this inflatable doll.

DUBNER: Yeah. Just explain that for people who haven’t delighted in beating up the clown before.

DUCKWORTH: For those who have not yet heard of the Bobo Doll study, it is, like, an essential element of psychological history. So, what Al Bandura does is he has these clown dolls — the kind that you blow up, and there’s, like, a weight in the bottom, and you can, like, push it and it comes back up.

DUBNER: You don’t push it. You punch it. Come on!

DUCKWORTH: Actually, that is what some of the role models did in some of the experiments. They would, like, punch it and kick it. And other role models didn’t do that. But what was really interesting is you would let kids watch these role models for something like 120 seconds, right? So, just this, like, super brief thin-slicing of watching an adult play with this doll. And then, the kids were allowed to do whatever they wanted.

DUBNER: And they randomized the adults so that some were beating up the doll and some were not?

DUCKWORTH: Exactly. And I think apart from Al Bandura’s intuition — and I’m not completely speculating, because towards the end of his life, I used to call him a lot on weekends and listen to him tell stories about these things. And, at the time, he was very concerned about the violence on television that was a concern broadly, not just for professional psychologists like him. And people were wondering if kids watch a lot of violent television, a lot of violent films, will they go out and commit violence? And so, he had a second interest in this experiment because of that. So, the primary finding is that, yeah, it doesn’t take long at all. It takes minutes, if not seconds for a young girl or boy to watch a grownup do something and then mimic them, almost to a T.  

DUBNER: This is a tangent, but I am curious to know where he ultimately landed on violent T.V. and movies and actual crime. A lot of people have done research saying that no, there doesn’t seem to be a real effect of watching violence and real violence. But, you know, then there are those who argue the other way around. And, I mean, if you think about how much violence there is in the T.V. and films that we watch — I once heard someone make the argument pretty compellingly that if there was as much shooting in real life as there is in T.V. and films, that all the humans would’ve been gone a long time ago.

DUCKWORTH: Not to mention video games, which I think actually now have as many hours on task as films certainly, and probably more than television.

DUBNER: So, what was his conclusion or finding?

DUCKWORTH: So, Al Bandura was definitely —  at least at the time, because you can see these little videos of Al Bandura, like, talking about the research and also talking about what he thought; so, I don’t know whether that evolved as new data came in — but he was definitely of the view that when you have lots of violence on the small screen, that could carry over and influence the way kids were. I think it’s important though, to take everything in context. So, first of all, as you point out, lots of data now suggesting it’s more complicated than that, but, at the time, remember, the amount of media there was was just so much less. It’s just different, I think, than it was.

DUBNER: So, are you saying that Al Bandura was the beginning of what we think of as the modern school of thought about role modeling?

DUCKWORTH: I think Al Bandura’s research was, like, the bedrock on which all of the modern research on role modeling was built.

DUBNER: So, can you just talk for a minute about the modern research on role modeling? Because I have seen papers — like, there’s a paper called “T.A.s Like Me: Racial Interactions Between Graduate Teaching Assistants and Undergraduates.” This was published in the Journal of Public Economics.

DUCKWORTH: Yeah. Scott Carrell.

DUBNER: Yeah. Okay. So, if you know that paper, just give us a quick précis of what that paper argues.

DUCKWORTH: So, there are three authors: Lester Lusher, Doug Campbell, and Scott Carrell —  all of them, I believe, economists. They did this very clever study at one of the U.C. colleges. I don’t think it’s named.  

DUBNER: I know Scott’s at U.C. Davis, so let’s pretend it’s there.

DUCKWORTH: That would make a lot of sense. So, this is so clever, because the question here is: was Al Bandura right? And does this actually happen in the real world? And I’ve read the original work that Bandura published, and he says in there that the similarity with your own gender actually matters. So, if I watch a role model, because I’m a girl, and she’s a woman, I’m going to follow that role model more than if I watch and it’s a man. So, that’s why this article called “T.A.s Like Me: Racial Interactions Between Graduate Teaching Assistants and Undergraduates” is so related. And they, of course, cite Bandura, because the question is, not only, do we model, but do we model people who look like us more? And this is so hard to study in the real world, because you can’t randomly assign presidents of the United States. You can’t randomly assign many things. But what they were able to do is capitalize on this large economics course where you had undergraduates of — and this is important that it’s in the U.C. school system — there are basically two races, Asian and white, I think. Asian, non-Asian. Of course, those aren’t the only two ethnicities to be in the United States, but in the U.C. system, that is the majority of students. And they were able to say, “Look, who you get as your teaching assistant is effectively randomly assigned.” You don’t get to choose them, and nobody’s thinking about race when they’re assigned, but we can capitalize on this random assignment of T.A.s and ask the question: do undergraduates who were randomly assigned to get T.A.s of the same ethnicity perform better than those who were randomly assigned, by luck, to get a T.A. who was not of their ethnicity?  And the stunning conclusion — and I will skip all the fancy math — there is a correlation between your match with your T.A. and your later performance, objectively, on exams in the econ course.

DUBNER: And then, we should just say, I’ve just given a quick scan of some related literature, and there seems to be a really strong role-model effect, let’s call it. There’s another paper written by an economist at West Point and an officer in the U.S. Army that finds that Black cadets who are paired with Black officers are 6.1 percentage points more likely — that’s a lot — to pick their role model’s branch than if the Black cadet had worked with a white officer. I see there’s some more work by the psychologist Sabrina Zirkel. She’s now a college dean at Santa Clara University. And she found that, compared to students who didn’t have gender- and race-matched role models, those who did often earned better grades, thought more about their futures, et cetera, et cetera. So, there seems to be a lot of research showing that, A) role modeling is important, and B) we role model on dimensions according to who we are to some large degree. And yet, we go back to the original email from Tricia who says, “I am me, and I want to find a different, more individual route to the individual destination I want to get to.” So, what do you suggest to Tricia? Do you suggest she just put her fingers in her ears and ignore all the role-modeling research we’ve just discussed, for instance?

DUCKWORTH: Well, look, Tricia could make Tricia’s own decisions, and just the fact that it is easier for most people to identify with somebody who is of the same gender identity or race-slash-ethnicity doesn’t mean that Tricia needs to primarily identify on that. I think the reason why gender, and race, and ethnicity are studied is that they are very salient categories for people. But you could have a kind of — you know, I feel like I identify with people who grew up in Southern New Jersey and went to a large, suburban high school.

DUBNER: Wait. You identify with them, or you envy them? Just to clear that up.

DUCKWORTH: I mostly identify with them, and I have to say, there’s not a lot to envy.


DUCKWORTH: I know. Some hating on South Jersey. You know, I think it’s not that Tricia needs to adhere to something that happens to be true for most people, but I think Tricia might notice that there could be, for her, people who on some dimension of similarity, like, it’s just more accessible. There’s one more paper that just came out that I think is really relevant, because I remember when I was reading this Al Bandura work on similarity of the role model. And I asked a former postdoc of mine named Pete Meindl, and he’s now at West Point — although, he wasn’t on the West Point paper that you were just mentioning — and he has always been interested in moral exemplars. So, Pete himself is quite moral. I don’t know how else to describe him. He’s just, like, somebody who thinks a lot about integrity and the right thing to do, and then tries to live his life accordingly. And he did this study that has a variety of different components. But one of the things that is really interesting is that he was basically writing these little vignettes about people who had done altruistic things. And because they’re stories, he can, essentially, with a lot of control, not only randomly assign, but very perimetrically, how much the role model in the story was like you. Because, you know, it’s a story. He can just write it however he wants. And when you look at that experimental research, what’s interesting is that people are more likely to follow the moral exemplar if they are similar to them than if what was told in the actual plot seems like the most logical cost-benefit thing to do.

DUBNER: That’s really interesting, yeah. All this talk about role modeling does make me suspect that there’s plainly a way to compare yourself without coveting, which is how we began this conversation. Now, I guess the key difference here is in the role modeling literature we’ve been talking about, we are definitely assessing people of different status levels. Is that right?

DUCKWORTH: You can role model anyone. I mean, social norms are a kind of role modeling. Role modeling is like mimicry. Like, you know, you watch somebody do something and you do it. It is true that the more similar the role model is to you and also the higher status the role model is, the more the effect. But role modeling, strictly speaking, need not be somebody who is higher status than you.

DUBNER: Let me bring this back to envy for a moment. Do you agree with the notion that envy destroys your ability to appreciate what you have?

DUCKWORTH: I mean, you could say, like, envy is the thief of joy. “Comparison is the thief of joy,” I think, is the expression. I think that the idea that envy unfolds, like so many other emotions, in stages — like that J.P.S.P. article that I was envying, because it was so good. I think there is a stage of pain, and there could be a stage where that becomes benign, and you start to think, “Well, what can I do with that information? Like, what could I learn?” And then, there’s maybe a stage of awe and admiration. I think that this full sequence of emotions probably happens in some version or another for all of us.

DUBNER: Hmm. May I offer a cautionary tale about envy?

DUCKWORTH: Yes, please.

DUBNER: I read this not long ago in a book by Joseph Telushkin. It’s a medieval folktale that Telushkin retells. It goes like this: “A king promised a man anything he wanted, on condition that the man’s neighbor, whom he envied, would receive double. Instead of being pleased by this extraordinary offer” — again, it was anything he wanted. “Instead of being pleased by this extraordinary offer, the man, obsessed and disheartened by his neighbor’s even greater good fortune, asked the king to pluck out one of his eyes, just so that his neighbor would lose both.” 

DUCKWORTH: I had not heard that one. That’s a little dark, Stephen. But it makes the point, doesn’t it? 

DUBNER: You know who it reminded me of when I read it? It reminded me of Tonya Harding. Like, she was pretty good, but Nancy Kerrigan was better.

DUCKWORTH: Oh right! 

DUBNER: So Angie, let me say this. If you and I were figure skaters, I would happily be a Tonya Harding to your Nancy Kerrigan. I’m okay with being pretty good and happy. Also, I know people who have a crowbar.

DUCKWORTH: Yeah. I was going to say, are you happy to be Tonya Harding, without knocking my knees out on the way from the locker room?

DUBNER: Yeah, yeah, yeah. The non, the non-felony, the non-felonious —. 

DUCKWORTH: The benign Tonya Harding.

DUBNER: The benign — as opposed to the malicious.

No Stupid Questions is produced by me, Rebecca Lee Douglas. And now here is a fact-check of today’s conversation.

In the first half of the show, Stephen reads a story about schadenfreude from Reddit without crediting the author of the post. The user in question goes by “TheSonofaPreacherMan,” and the story was posted on “Ask Reddit” in 2011 — the year that Cars 2 and Gnomeo & Juliet were released on DVD. Stephen and Angela made Redbox kiosks seem like a thing of the past, but there are reportedly about 36,000 rental stations that are still active in the United States. Also, Stephen says that Redbox was “pre-Netflix,” but Netflix was established in 1997, and Redbox was founded five years later — in 2002.

Later, Angela notes that one of the reasons that she envies her colleague, organizational psychologist Adam Grant, is that Grant has three bestselling books. Grant has actually authored or co-authored four books that have made it to the New York Times bestseller list: Think Again, Originals, Give and Take, and Option B. Sorry, Angela!

Then, Angela says that children in the Bobo Doll studies learned violent behavior after watching adults for just 120 seconds. Kids actually observed adult participants beating up the toy for a total of 10 minutes before they were given the opportunity to interact with the dolls themselves.

Finally, Angela guesses that individuals today spend more time, on average, playing video games than watching television. According to data from the American Time Use Survey, young men — the biggest consumers of video games — play games for an average of about four hours a week and spend about 14 to 15 hours a week watching television. The demographic that watches the most television — men over 65 — watch about 33 hours of television a week.

That’s it for the fact-check.

Before we wrap today’s show, let’s hear your thoughts on our recent episode on the importance of family. Here’s what you said!

Clarissa: Hi, I’m Clarissa from Manila. I think it isn’t paradoxical that liberals would have the tendency to cut ties with family over politics, because it’s never just about politics. They affect lived experiences. Your family support of politicians who oppose liberties, like same sex marriage or abortion will affect you, or at least some very important people in your life. You don’t walk out in annoyance. You walk out deeply hurt and disappointed. 

Meridith HALSEY: Hi. I agree with Angela that everyone needs “don’t worry I got you no matter what” relationships. I think what matters is whether one comes from an honor culture or a dignity culture. I found Ryan Brown’s book, Honor Bound, really helpful to explain the difference between these cultures. But the super short version is that honor culture places more emphasis on the family unit, while dignity culture places more emphasis on the individual person. So, these cultures also appear to mirror our political leanings with the honor culture leaning conservative and the dignity culture leaning liberal. In an honor-culture family, cutting ties might seem harmful to the family unit, while in a dignity culture, cutting ties might be considered helpful for an individual’s mental and physical health. 

Diego PINZÓN: Hi, Steven and Angela, this is Diego. I was born and raised in Colombia, and I first moved to the U.S. when I was 14 years old. And, to me, it was very fascinating the different nuances there are between both cultures. I was taught that my immediate family will always be my mother, siblings, cousins, aunts, even grandparents. So, to me, that is very interesting and very particular, because the American way of life is that my immediate family members are my wife, in this case, and perhaps children. I have friends in Colombia who go through very hard times trying to separate themselves from family members. In the American way of life, perhaps it’s a little bit easier to sort of say, “You know what, I’m going to cut ties with my brother or my sister,” but in Colombian culture, it is very complicated for a lot of people to deal with those situations internally. Thank you for listening, and I hope you guys continue to kill it, having amazing conversations and thought starters for all of us. 

That was respectively: Clarissa, Meridith Halsey, and Diego Pinzón. Thanks to them and to everyone who sent us their thoughts. And remember, we’d still love to hear about a time when you benefited from comparing yourself to someone else. Also, we’re working on a special upcoming series on the seven deadly sins, and we’re collecting listener thoughts and experiences for that as well! There’s sloth, wrath, envy, pride, lust, gluttony, and greed. Are these behaviors really so bad? Which one do you struggle with the most? And if you could get a free pass on one of them, which would it be? Send a voice memo or an email to Let us know your name and if you’d like to remain anonymous. You might end up on an upcoming show!

Coming up next on No Stupid Questions: Why do people grind their teeth?

DUBNER: Apparently George Clooney is a grinder. Brooke Shields is a grinder. 

DUCKWORTH: I want Barack Obama to be a teeth grinder. That would make me feel better. 

That’s next week on No Stupid Questions. 

*      *      *

No Stupid Questions is part of the Freakonomics Radio Network, which also includes Freakonomics Radio, People I (Mostly) Admire, and Freakonomics, M.D. All our shows are produced by Stitcher and Renbud Radio. This episode was mixed by Eleanor Osborne. Our staff also includes Neal Carruth, Gabriel Roth, Greg Rippin, Julie Kanfer, Morgan Levey, Zack Lapinski, Ryan Kelley, Katherine Moncure, Jasmin Klinger, Jeremy Johnston, Daria Klenert, Emma Tyrrell, Lyric Bowditch, Alina Kulman, and Elsa Hernandez. Our theme song is “And She Was” by Talking Heads — special thanks to David Byrne and Warner Chappell Music. If you’d like to listen to the show ad-free, subscribe to Stitcher Premium. You can follow us on Twitter @NSQ_Show and on Facebook @NSQShow. If you have a question for a future episode, please email it to To learn more, or to read episode transcripts, visit Thanks for listening!

DUCKWORTH: How brilliant is that? Is that not brilliant? Like, that is brilliant.

DUBNER: Good outtakes right there.

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  • Albert Bandura, professor of psychology at Stanford University.
  • Doug Campbell, professor of economics at the New Economic School in Moscow.
  • Scott Carrell, professor of economics at the University of California, Davis.
  • Robert Cialdini, professor emeritus of psychology at Arizona State University.
  • Jan Crusius, professor of social psychology at Tilburg University.
  • Adam Grant, professor of management and psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.
  • Jens Lange, professor of psychology and human movement science at the University of Hamburg.
  • Lester Lusher, professor of economics at the University of Hawaii, Manoa.
  • Peter Meindl, chair for honor and character assessment at the United States Military Academy West Point.
  • Katy Milkman, professor of operations, information and decisions at the University of Pennsylvania.
  • Aaron Weidman, senior analyst at Govini.
  • Sabrina Zirkel, dean of the school of education and counseling psychology at Santa Clara University.



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