(Photo by Elvire.R./Flickr)
I recently discovered an important piece of research that has attracted no mainstream media attention. I think the world should know about it. It starts to explain – how to put this subtly? – everything that humans do.
I discovered this research while reading the British Psychological Society Research Digest. (I don’t know whether the fact that I read something called the British Psychological Society Research Digest is a reason I do not have a girlfriend, or is a result of my being single. Either way, these are the things I do with my time when not buying restaurant-quality meals for women.)
Researchers asked university students to judge how high an unencumbered woman would be able to jump. The students doing the guessing made lower estimates of how high the woman would jump when they had weights attached to their own ankles. The students gave higher estimates when they didn’t have weights attached to their own ankles.
According to the BPS Research Digest, “Veronica Ramenzoni and colleagues interpreted their finding in terms of Gibson’s ecological theory of perception. This is the idea that our perception of the world is intimately affected by what we are capable of doing in it. The new finding suggests our assessment of how we can act in a given environment biases our judgment of how other people will be able to act too.”
I know what you’re thinking. Which ecological theory of perception? Oh, Gibson’s ecological theory of perception. I’m glad they’re finally labeling all these various ecological theories of perception.
I’ll restate the study’s conclusion: “The new finding suggests our assessment of how we can act in a given environment biases our judgment of how other people will be able to act too.”
In other words, we judge others by our own capabilities.
I’m calling this Ramenzoni’s Law.
If true, Ramenzoni’s Law affects human action at every level.
Take relationships. Ramenzoni’s Law helped me realize this. When I sing the praises of a woman I like, the praise often is a form of reflected glory. She is smart. She is funny. She is a pursuer of happiness. She is five-foot, six-inches tall. These are all things I think I am. Whether those things are true or not, they are true in my head. This is part of the Wonder Woman Theory I defined in the column In opposition to the Open Door Policy.
Let’s apply Ramenzoni’s Law to the workplace. A few years ago I had a boss who expected me to toe the company line at a time when worker morale was low. There were many reasons for low morale, none of which were addressed by upper management. I think she expected me to toe the company line because she was great at toeing the company line. You always knew where the company line was because she was standing on it, or near it or twirling it like a golden lariat in hopes that she could ensnare other people with it. My management style revolved around keeping the people “under” me, to borrow a term from Office Space, productive. Her management style revolved around keeping the people “over” her happy. She projected her ability on me.
(Here’s something else Ramenzoni’s Law helped me realize. If you want to get ahead – if you want to play the game, so to speak – make your boss’s talents your talents. This explains the seemingly inexplicable Cowell-Seacrest dynamic. It also explains Belichick-Brady, McCain-Palin and Burns-Smithers.)
Let’s look at politics. Specifically, let’s look at the latest economic bailout.
A politician is a person who takes money from a person who earned it and gives it to a person who did not. These are not people who excel at making an honest dollar. Perhaps this is why most congressmen have the perpetually disappointed look of a college professor who is miffed that someone has taken his or her parking spot.
What politicians are good at is compromising as means of survival. As a result, Washington politicians look at the people they consider their peers on Wall Street and project their own abilities onto them. If Wall Street wants to survive in a time of crisis, politicians think, Wall Street will have to compromise. Psychologically, this is how $700 billion bailout plans happen and capitalism becomes socialism. The bailout plan asks Wall Street to be party to a transaction in which money is taken from people who earned it (taxpayers) and given to people who did not (the people who run failing banks). The pattern is familiar.
Here’s the good thing about Ramenzoni’s Law and the reason I want more people to know about. Once you recognize its existence, you can start to overcome the negative effects of living in a me-centered universe. You can judge women by who they are, not by how they are awesome like you. You can size up your boss – or a potential boss – in one conversation. You can even keep the upper echelons of the economy free from government interference if you are the son of a vice president, (later president), who failed to create any wealth in the free market and wound up making a lot of his fortune through the sale of a heavily taxpayer-subsidized baseball field.
According to Ramenzoni’s Law, we judge others by our own capabilities. President Bush must think it is hard to make money without government assistance.
It is – for him.