Friday, February 26

Exploring Validation: Do We Need It?


Dr. Satoshi Kanazawa, an evolutionary psychologist at the London School of Economics, can be considered a colorful thinker of sorts. He has argued that Asian cultural traditions inhibit Asian scientific creativity; poor health in some countries is related to lower IQ and not poverty; and that beautiful people are 26 percent less likely to have male offspring.

On more than one occasion, his conclusions have been wrong. And yet, there is some buzz over his new theory, published in Social Psychology Quarterly, that liberals and atheists are more intelligent — here, here, here, and more than two dozen others. Why?

He believes it. And others want to believe it too.

Most recently, U.S. Sen. Harry Reid claimed on the Senate floor that "women aren't abusive, most of the time. Men, when they're out of work, tend to become abusive." There are more than 16 groups calling for him to issue an apology for misrepresenting 250 scholarly studies. Why?

He believes it. And others want to believe it too.

Brian Solis writes about a similar phenomenon. He calls it the Verizon Network Theory, which suggests that we gain confidence with online interaction, reinforced by updates, followers, retweets, etc. In sum, people seek out validation and hope for validation on the Internet. He cites several surveys that demonstrate it, with a growing percentage of the population wanting to be noticed. Why?

He believes it. And others want to believe it too.

Understanding the increasing need for validation.

With increasing regularity, people are seeking out sources that validate their beliefs. Kanazawa seems to do it with research, which is readily lifted up by people who want to believe in it. U.S. Sen. Harry Reid did it, which reinforces his erroneous gender stereotypes. And Solis is right that people lean toward validation activities online (and, increasingly so, offline too).

You can see some similarities in Robert Cialdini's book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, which Fortune Magazine lists among the “75 Smartest Business Books.” In it, Cialdini centers his idea on six key points that we also see in social media.

• Reciprocation. People are likely to share information from people who have shared their information.
• Credibility. Although nowadays, online, credibility is associated with popularity over expertise.
• Friendship. Salespeople have always understood that people tend to buy from people they like.
• Scarcity. Items with a perceived scarcity have greater value. Online, this amounts to a number of followers.
• Social validation. People are predisposed to follow the majorities rather than minorities.
• Commitment. Once people are engaged, they tend to become more brand loyal over time.

But the question that needs to be asked is: given the increasing regularity of misinformation and the proliferation of self-validated theories, is this increasing need for self and social validation a good thing? Albert Einstein, IQ estimated at 160-180, didn't think so.

"He who joyfully marches to music in rank and file has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would suffice." — Albert Einstein
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