1st and Ten - The Weekly Tendown November 7-13 2010

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Dear Internet -

There have been experiments like this.

Some with rats, or the Israeli Army, or elementary school students.  They all go like this.

There's a random division between two groups.  The rats, the military candidates, the kids, all randomly divided.

But those charged with training the groups (scientists, commanders, teachers) are misled, told that one of the groups has higher intelligence than the other.  Even though the groups, again, completely divided randomly - all of the subjects had been given a test prior to the division; there's no difference in the scores of group A from group B.

A fixed period of time goes by, and then that pre-division test is again administered to the two groups.

What do you suppose is the result?

The group that the instructors believed to be more intelligent did significantly better than the other group.

The things we think about ourselves; the messages in our head about who we essentially are - they come from somewhere and they have real consequences.  Could be a third grade teacher decided for whatever reason that you couldn't do math, and your whole life has been fulfilling that expectation.

Consider this - they took college students and divided them in 3 groups (this experiment might be in the book Sway - I have forgotten)

1. Women
2. Men
3. Mixed

The women were told was they were going to receive a 5 minute phone call from a man they did not know.

The men were told they were going to make a 5 minute phone call to a woman.  They received a picture and bio of the woman they were going to call.  The bios were real.  The pictures were not.  Half of the men got pictures of hot women.  Half the men, not so much.

After the phone call, the men were asked to evaluate the women.

It will not surprise you that the men who had pictures of hot women had significantly higher opinions of those women than those who believed they were talking to less attractive women.  The fake pretty women were smarter, more confident, funnier, more engaging than the fake not pretty women - according to the men.

You get that.  It's an aspect of the halo effect.  We ascribe all sorts of positive qualities to attractive people.  It's one of the reasons why NFL quarterbacks have symmetrical facial features at a significantly higher rate not only than the general public but compared to other football players.  The good looking kid is considered to be a better leader at some early stage of development, and is funneled to quarterback, a position of leadership.  He's treated like a leader, and he becomes a leader.  The elementary school kids are treated like smart kids - and they become smart kids.  And the converse.  Who we become is a function of how we are treated, of the messages about ourselves that are in our brains for reasons we cannot reconstruct.

That's where the mixed group comes in.  They were played the tapes of the phone calls - but just the women's half of the call.  And then they were asked to describe the women.

Which women did they like more?

Yeah - the fake pretty ones.  Smarter, more engaged, more interesting, more confident.

That's how much we are impacted by the way we are treated - men believe they are talking to pretty women and therefore treat them in a particular way - the way they treat them then causes behavior from those women that is so noticeable that it can be heard in a five minute phone call by an outside group.

And the converse.

We think who we are is who we are.  But here are these adult women, personalities fully formed, yet the belief that men have about their level of attractiveness (remember, the pictures - fake) can cause behavior so clear it is evidenced by an entirely non-biased outside group, a group which doesn't hear the men speak and doesn't see the pictures.

I've been doing a lot of writing about the World Champion San Francisco Giants over the last several months; I've talked about my childhood affinity for Charlie Brown, whose status as a loser (a lovable one perhaps, but a loser nonetheless, and a San Francisco Giants fan) was a defining characteristic.  I've posted a link to a 2006 piece I wrote about the Giants that contained a line from Underworld about a character who loved the
New York Giants (the baseball version, yes):

He knows how to find the twisty compensation in the business of losing, being a loser, drawing it out, expanding it, making it sickly sweet, being someone carefully chosen for the role.

If you were to travel back in time a quarter century, either via flux capacitor or hot tub, to see teenage Jim Jividen in Prospect, Ohio - if I wasn't watching a Giants game, you'd probably see me watching the old David Letterman show.

Letterman's the most important comic voice of my lifetime, his "I'm here, but not really here; I'm commenting on this even as I live through it" sensibility is the way that I process my life, and I'd argue the way my generation and maybe the one subsequent has processed its reality (most recently seen in the Stewart/Colbert Un-Rally).  But until this week, when I read The War for Late Night: When Leno Went Early and Television Went Crazy Bill Carter's new book about the Conan/Leno contretemps, I hadn't thought about Letterman in Charlie Brown language.

There's a passage that includes a quote from Robert Morton, longtime Letterman producer, discussing the change the show went through when it moved from 12:30 to 11:30 when Dave was passed over for the Tonight Show and moved to CBS.

"The new show had to be about success. It can't be about failure, " Morton had said. The old show had celebrated failure.

And he's right.  And he's right and that's why I liked it, and what I missed about it after the move to CBS.  I enjoyed the failure.  I identified with the failure.

So - which comes first?  The Charlie Brown, David Letterman, San Francisco Giants  - is it that I identified with the failure and so I gravitated toward it - or is it that the I internalized those messages of failure about myself?  Who had the ugly girl picture of me?

That's what I thought about this week.  After the jump - the rest of Tendown 51.  Special Elevendown!

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