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Prestige Bias

Identify other people around you who seem to be doing particularly well in life. Study their behavior carefully and imitate them.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Prestige bias is a particular interpretation of Social Comparison that comes from the Boyd and Richerson theory of Cultural Evolution. While Conformity Bias is the basic mechanism that protects the integrity of cultural knowledge, prestige bias is crucial for permitting new best practices to take hold. As the practice is adopted more widely, conformity bias takes over, and the decision doesn't even need to be considered.

This is an evolutionary theory of why we are fascinated by the behaviors of high status people and sometimes adopt these behaviors (think “lifestyles of the rich and famous”). Together with Conformity Bias, these are innate inclinations toward behaviors that promote cultural evolution, genetic adaptations to cultural evolution, a consequence of Genetic-Cultural Coevolution.

Prestige is not necessarily exactly the same as social status, and may often differ from political power. What sort of thing is prestigious is determined by your culture, social class, and group membership, but that doesn't mean that it is completely arbitrary. If a culture assigns prestige to activities that harm the ability of that society to compete with other polities (such as by increasing internal conflict), then that culture would lose out. Similarly, a subculture can self-destruct if adopts values that cause it to lose Mind Share. It is unsurprising to find cultures that assign prestige to economic productivity or effective use of political power, because those are things that aid in competition between cultures. But it may be that prestige has an innate bias toward wealth and power. All animals have a sense of quality and amount of food (see Value), and social mammals usually have some sort of dominance ranking (see Hierarchy). Humans are outliers, in that until 5000-10000 years ago, we mostly lived in egalitarian tribal groups (see Human Origins and Original Sin).

It seems there is also a drive toward displaying status. That is, people make costly displays of their productivity, perhaps even reducing their personal genetic fitness. If you grow a 2000 pound yam and serve it up in a big party, then clearly this is a costly status display. It isn't even efficient, surely it is easier to grow 2000 pounds of smaller yams (they probably taste better too). That's the whole point. This example is from the book Not by Genes Alone, where the authors say that they think of 2000 pound yams whenever they see someone driving a Hummer. In our view, status display can be an altruistic behavior. Wanting to let everyone know how productive you are (status displays and bragging) drives people to broadcast culturally valuable information which genes-alone evolutionary psychology might want to keep in the family.

analysis/bias/prestige.txt · Last modified: 2014/12/25 12:03 by ram