Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Duped! Happy April Fools' Day

My mom was an unsalvageable font of narcissism and social obliviousness; all my life I've tried to avoid her faults. I'm certainly no paragon, but I know how to confess, how to apologize, how to try and make things right when I screw up. I don't drink, I don't smoke, I don't tell lies, I try to take my fair share of the blame for whatever happens to me, and I obsessively do what I say I'm going to do -- this is how I try to save myself from her hell.

It's put me into another hell, though, in which I am often duped because I forget other people aren't trying as hard as I am. Then, after taking a fall, I spend endless hours analyzing: what did I do to bring this on? At what point could I have escaped it? Those are not happy hours.

An earlier post on how a donkey pulls one on a human: "I Been Sulled!"

Extracts from
April Fool! The Purpose of Pranks
By Benedict Carey for the New York Times, April 1, 2008

In a paper published last year, three psychologists argued that the sensation of being duped (anger, self-blame, bitterness) was such a singular cocktail that it forced an uncomfortable kind of self-awareness. How much of a dupe am I? Where are my blind spots?

"As humans, we develop this notion of fairness as a part of our self-concept, and of course it's extremely important in exchange relationships"

The fear of being had is a trait that varies from near-obliviousness in some people to hypervigilance in others.

The researchers had men and women play a computerized cooperation game and demonstrated that participants who felt they had been burned would go over the experience in their heads, playing out alternative versions of how they might have behaved.

"Being duped holds up a mirror," Dr. Vohs said, "and may in fact show [people] where they are on the scale" -- too trusting or too vigilant. Paranoia, too, has its costs, and it can sour relationships.

Running back the tape mentally, in this case meditating on how an embarrassing event might have turned out otherwise, is known to psychologists as counterfactual thinking. "The feeling of 'I should have known better' is the sort of counterfactual that serves to highlight your own shortcomings," said Neal Roese, a psychologist at the University of Illinois. "A good deal of research has shown that these counterfactual insights can kick-start new behaviors, new self-exploration and, ultimately, self-improvement."

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