We all know them – supremely confident, arrogant people with inflated views of themselves. They strut and swagger, seemingly impervious to critical opinions, threats of failure or the glare of self-awareness. You may be able to tell that I don’t like such people very much, which is why new research from Sander Thomaes from Utrecht University makes me smirk.
Thomaes found that people with unrealistically inflated opinions of themselves, far from proving more resilient in the face of social rebuffs, actually suffer more because of it. Some psychologists hold that “positive illusions” provide a mental shield that buffers its bearers from the threats of rejection or criticism. But according to Thomaes, realistic self-awareness is a much healthier state of mind.
He studied a group of 206 children aged 9-12, a point in life when popularity and acceptance among your peers seems all-important. Every child rated how much they liked each one of their classmates on a scale from zero (not at all) to three (very much). They also predicted the rating that each classmate would give them. The two scores were only moderately related to one another (a correlation of 0.52), and the difference between them provided a measure of each child’s self-awareness. Kids with inflated egos had positive differences while those with negative scores thought worse of themselves than their peers did had.
Two weeks later, Thomaes brought back all the children for an experiment. They were told that they would be taking part in the Survivor Game -an online popularity contest where groups of four players had to complete a personal profile, and a panel of peers would vote out the person they liked the least. The game was a front – in reality, half of the children were randomly told that they were least liked and voted out, while the other half were simply told that this dishonour had befallen someone else.
Money has subtler benefits beyond the ability to buy lavish goods or luxurious services – it’s also a psychological and physical salve. According to research by Xinyue Zhou from Sun Yat-Sen University, handling money can soothe the sting of social rejection and appease the physical pain of hot water. Even bringing up the mere thought of money can have these effects.
Popularity matters to social animals like humans, who rely on each other for our wants and needs. Our dependence on each other makes it important to get along with our peers. But in many societies, money can bypass that need, allowing us to get our own way whether we’re liked or not. As such, Zhou and colleagues viewed money as a social resource, one that can substitute for popularity.
They reasoned that money should have a stronger allure for people who face social rejection, and that thoughts of profit should blunt the pain of isolation. Equally, thoughts of losing money should make the pain of exclusion more poignant as poorer people tend to be more dependent on others for their needs. And that’s exactly what they found through a series of six psychological experiments.