Sunday, January 27, 2013


I'm reading Dan Ariely's The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie To Everyone. One of the ideas being covered is making me think hard now about certain behaviours of people.
Ariely talks about the idea of self-signaling, a concept used by social scientists to explain behaviour that occurs when a person acts a certain way and influences themselves. Ariely describes this:
"The basic idea behind self-signaling is that despite what we tend to think, we don't have a very clear notion of who we are. We generally believe that we have a privileged view of our own preferences and character, but in reality we don't know ourselves that well (and definitely not as well as we think we do). Instead, we observe ourselves in the same way we observe and judge the actions of other people - inferring who we are and what we like from our actions."
The research the book describes is about running an experiment regarding wearing a branded product. They found that when the participants thought they were wearing counterfeit products (which they weren't), the participants were more likely to cheat and be dishonest at a certain task. This indicates some type of negative self-signaling where the individual loosens their moral restraint merely by the fact that they believed that they were wearing a fake product. Not only does this make people more likely to cheat, but it also causes them to think others are being dishonest as well.

While the above example is about self-signalling regarding behaviour, I am also thinking about actions that drive self-signalling or vice versa, self-signalling behaviour driving actions. Would I do something because it would make me feel or think better about myself? I think it is a good topic to ponder on and see how the subconscious can make decisions for us without conscious thought. (On a side note, this is related to self-perception theory by Daryl Bem).

Usually people only think about social-signaling where their actions and behaviour are driven by what they want to reflect to the people around them, however, with exposure to this idea, now I find myself having to think how my own behaviour is driven by what I wear, surround myself with, and the actions I take.

I find myself considering the relationship of self-signalling with behavioural priming.

Researching more about signalling theory in general, I am really fascinated with how signalling is ingrained in the psyche of all life and not just humans.