People People

Are you a people person?

In conventional terms I suppose a “people person” is someone who is good around people, can socialise even to strangers, and is basically an extrovert. It’s strange that at the top of my head, I can’t think of the opposite of a “people person”. Is it a “self person”? A “books/games/whatever that is not people person”? But it’s not as if there is a dichotomy between people and TV shows or games or books. I like reading and watching dramas, but I still like being around people too. So I guess the opposite of a “people person” is in essence “not a people person”.

But we all need people in our lives. Even the most shy person (short of people with the personality disorder known as schizoid) has friends and loved ones. They could be confined to simply his family, or he may have a few equally shy friends, or maybe — like most hikikomori nowadays — online friends. Even a child who doesn’t meet people will come up with imaginary friends, or personify his toys. Everyone wants people to talk to, or even just hang around with. People may say they don’t need anybody, but they will lead a really lonely life.

Some people are scared that if they trust people too much, they may get hurt when they lose these people. That is true, and we are not always able to hold onto all our friends all our lives. Perhaps it isn’t even healthy to do so. Like everything else, friends should ideally change — making new ones at every opportunity, and losing those that gradually drift away. It can be hard to maintain a friendship — really, it’s hard enough maintaining a relationship — for years, and not all memories can be retrieved time and time again. People will change as they grow older, most times without knowing it.

However, it’s also all too common for people to have fewer friends as they grow older. Usually a person in his mid-life years (about 35 to 40 or so) has the fewest friends, as everyone gradually settles into marriage and busy themselves with children. They may make new friends at work at this time, and their old friends will slowly fade away, maybe meeting once every few years. I don’t quite know what I’ll be like by that age. I used to think that I would be on Surreality forever, with all my friends intact, but would that be practical once I go out to work? Would I have the time for everybody?

Truth be told, I don’t quite want to get out of this age. I’m not sure what the future will hold, but I’m quite sure it wouldn’t be any better than how it is now. Then again, I guess I’m obstinately pessimistic about some things in my life!

One kind of loss that would be hardest to bear would obviously be death. Old people can tolerate the idea of their friends dying very well (by that age, family is always more important than friends) but to younger people, a friend’s death is both shocking and saddening. The idea that you can never talk to the person anymore, or see them, is very painful. I particularly like talking to people, so that part is what would be the clincher for me.

Who are the most important people in your life?


I’m Eyeing You All The Time

So the New York Times published an article some time back about eye contact. Eye contact seems to be very socially important, to the extent that brands make products with mascots that specifically look straight at you, and they’re effective in getting you to buy them. And we all know that everything psychologically important has been exploited by marketers at some point in time.

The article added that eye contact makes a person more likeable and trustworthy, which is little wonder that Mao has been so successful — I mean, his entire image centres around eye contact, to the extent that the rest of his face was intentionally downplayed to maximise attention on his eyes. That said, the article also acknowledges that Asians break eye contact more quickly than Westerners. My friend once said that she was uncomfortable that her Western professor was looking her in the eye so much and for so long. To us Asians, you don’t look into the eyes of somebody in authority — that seems almost defiant. However, to Westerners, it’s considered rude not to look into the eyes of a person with authority. That’s where conflict sometimes occurs.

I’ve read somewhere else, though, that the desirable kind of eye contact differs between gender. Women like men who look at them from the side, whereas men like women who look at them from the front. I believe that from the side, facial features become sharper. The nose and chin seem more prominent, and testosterone is mainly centred around making the face more well-defined, so women think men look better when turned to the side. On the other hand, women’s attractiveness depends on eyes and lips, which are both more prominent from the front, so women should be sure to turn fully towards a man when she looks at him, rather than casting a sidelong glance. Besides, with such long hair, women’s faces would likely be obscured at the side. I haven’t really ascertained if TV shows make use of this property, but do check out some romance dramas and see if I’m right! The camera would insist on capturing women at full frontal profile, but men would be shot from the side.

I’ve met many people who avoid eye contact when they talk, sometimes purposely so, even. It can be quite obvious, and deeply unsettling — you often wonder what precisely they’re looking at when they’re talking. These people also tend to keep a distance from you; they don’t want to get too close. I can see why people would call them distant, callous and unfriendly. After all, eyes are the best way to tell certain emotions in people, such as fear. This reminds me of a psychological disorder named the Urbach-Wiethe Disease, where sufferers do not feel or recognise fear. This woman with the disease, when asked to draw a person feeling fear, said she didn’t know what such people looked like. It turned out that it was because she doesn’t look at people’s eyes, but rather other features like their mouths, which tell little when a person is fearful!

Not only that, she was not afraid of danger. She touched venomous snakes with barely a thought, and laughed when inside a haunted house. It was very frightening.

Back to eye contact. Here’s the full article.


I’ve never felt the uncertainty of time as acutely as when I started planning for the trip to Japan. I didn’t want to put too many activities, or too few, into a single day, but it was really hard to estimate just how much time we would spend in 1 place. Would we get bored early? Would we take a lot of time to walk around? How long would we spend doing certain activities?

I never really understood what Einstein meant about the relativity of time before, when he said that time was relative to what we were doing. He probably meant it as a joke (“When a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute. But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute — then it’s longer than any hour. That’s relativity!”) but recently I’ve fully comprehended what he meant. After all, we’ve been living for most of our lives based on our clocks, and yet why don’t we ever know what the time is without checking it? No one has been able to say with any degree of confidence what time it is without referring to the clock. How many times have you glanced at your clock and gone, “oh dear, it’s this time already?” Indeed, time is quite difficult to grasp, even though we would expect to have gained some proficiency in it with our eighty years in the world.

What can you do in a minute? You’re fairly sure you can do more than get up and take a mug of water, but probably less than the time you need to take a shower. 10 minutes is the time some people can run 2.4 km in school (the boys, that is) and yet it is only the duration of 2 songs. 3-hour seminar classes seem to drag on for ages, but you can spend 3 to 4 hours easily in a karaoke and think there wasn’t enough time to sing all the songs you wanted — but isn’t each song only about 5 minutes? As we grow older, we take the uncertainty of time for granted. Classes and recreation are regarded with different metric systems.

This doesn’t really solve the problem, though. After all, look at the (increasing) number of people coming late for appointments. We simply don’t know the precise amount of time we need for transport unless we specifically measure it. But of course, you may argue that time is there to serve us; we’re not slaves of time. We don’t have to do everything to the precise second, of course, but it does mean even greater uncertainty. When someone says they will be there at 11.25 am, do they actually mean 11.30? 11.40, even? Some people would even leave the house at 11.25. It’s all part of a culture which has accepted that time is only a reference.

So how much time should I set aside for each location? Time doesn’t tell.

Inconvenient Emotions

I rarely use my blog as a diary, because it’s quite unprofessional and impolite to write personal emotions into a place that people read. People don’t want to read your personal feelings. I’m not too sure why, though, really. Why are feelings always placed at a lower hierarchy than thoughts? If you have thoughts, that’s wonderful, because they are well-reasoned, logical and interesting. If you have feelings, that’s just a lack of self-control, so please keep them to yourself and avoid doing anything reckless with them. I find that rather unjust suddenly.

And since this column happens to be about psychology and the mind, which relates also to emotions (even if the link may not seem obvious at first) I shall use this opportunity to argue for why emotions should be placed with equal respect as thoughts.

First of all, some context. I was very angry with someone yesterday, and ticked her off a bit too hard. I immediately felt guilty after that, because she showed an adverse reaction to it. This brings to mind a few pointers for today.

1. Why are we conditioned to feel guilt from anger? In school, as children, we’re taught that anger is wrong, except when the circumstances are right. But what is the threshold of behaviour to which anger will be acceptable? If someone hits you, you have a right to be angry. That is straightforward enough. But what if the person doesn’t hit you? Must you be directly provoked in order to be angry? Sometimes people say things like, “it’s none of your business, so there’s no need to be angry.”

2. What is the appropriate response after being angry? Of course, all these already assume that anger can be controlled. Everyone agrees that we cannot help feeling anger, but while crying is depicted positively on television shows, anger is less so. The only healthy way to express anger is usually to punch a wall, or if you’re justifiably angry, to hit the other party. And all my memories of such expressions come in Taiwanese soap operas, which hardly represent Singapore’s society.

I learnt in social psychology that showing acts of aggression actually make people feel angrier and more likely to commit further acts of aggression, which may explain why society discourages people from being aggressive (does society really know so much about psychology?). They have said many times that the person who strikes first is always wrong, that truly educated people will hold back their anger and smile in the face of their enemies.

The moral of the story then, is as you have expected. What to do in times of anger is to walk away, take deep breaths and count to 10. You should bottle up those feelings and avoid ruining the “atmosphere” with your temper tantrums. We all know it is not easy, but it is “necessary” to maintain some kind of peace. Why do we want to maintain peace when we are in turmoil inside? I guess it is a price for being considerate.

The Pixar Theory

I recently saw on Facebook yet another “Pixar conspiracy” secret thing, this time about A113. The word A113 has appeared on many animations (this time not just Pixar, but things like the Simpsons are also included) as car numberplates, serial numbers and the like. It turns out to have a rather mundane reason, that A113 is the name of the classroom where most animators learned their craft. I will not go further into it here.

Facebook, being an expert on drawing relations, linked me to another older article on the Pixar theory, which has sprouted about the internet ever since the release of Brave. Basically people are proclaiming that all the Pixar movies have been set in the same universe all along, with Brave being the first stage in the timeline, and all narrate an ongoing story. I do not believe a word of this, but it is interesting, as all fandom theories are (such as the Pokémon coma theory).

For those not in the know, I shall describe the theory for you here.

1. We start off with Brave in the Dark Ages, where Merida discovers the magic of the will of the wisps, and also finds a witch. In the witch’s den, animals and inanimate objects behave like humans, and the witch seemingly disappears through wooden doors (now in which movie have you seen something to do with travelling through doors before?). In her den, there is a wooden block on the shelf with a carving that looks like Sully from Monsters Inc! (aha, travelling through doors to scare children!)

2. Next in the timeline is the Incredibles, where we see the first sign of machines taking over humans. Think Syndrome (the bad guy) being wiped out eventually by the Omnidroid when it becomes sentient. (also, this brings to mind another movie about machines disobeying the wishes of their human masters, hmm)

3. Third comes Toy Story, where toys become alive due to Syndrome’s Zero Point technology thing that gives energy to inanimate objects. They also gain energy from interacting with humans, as we know. Then in Toy Story 2 we see toys starting to resent humans for abandoning them. Also, in Toy Story 2, there is a scene where Flik and Heimlich from A Bug’s Life were climbing up a branch. Even the credits reported so.

4. Finding Nemo continues the trend of sentient animals, who even have things like a school and an underwater freeway. Dory is strangely forgetful. There are 2 different theories as to why that is. 1 is that she was caught and experimented on by humans. 2 is that animals are evolving to become intelligent and she was somehow left behind. So in a sense Dory is a normal fish and the other animals are just super-intelligent.

5. In Ratatouille, Remy acts like a human. He stands on 2 legs and, well, fricking cooks. Also he starts to control humans like Linguini who doesn’t know how to do anything.

6. In Toy Story 3, we see war brewing between toys and humans. By the way, on Andy’s desk there is a half-buried letter which has Carl and Ellie’s name on it. Carl and Ellie from Up.

7. In Up, Carl is forced to give up his home for excavation works to a company. Throughout the Pixar franchise, there has been 1 company that is constantly being shown in high profile, and that is Buy ‘n’ Large, also known as BnL. BnL was seen in Toy Story 3. It was also seen to be the sole company taking over the government in Wall.E’s billboard advertisements (aha, Wall.E, yes, that’s the movie about machines disobeying humans). And it would indeed make sense that BnL is the corporation seeking to monopolise the city during Carl’s time (and eventually succeeding during the age of Wall.E). BnL, as speculated, is the product of the Omnidroid after it failed to stop the Incredibles.

8. So the toys rose in power and fought against the humans, and the machines stood on the humans’ side and won. The machines then decided to send humans away while they work on restoring Earth to normal (mm-hm, Wall.E again). And the movie that shows the process of machines living on their own is Cars. There are no humans on Earth in Cars. Oh but maybe Cars was set in an alternate car universe! Then how do you explain them going to places like “Europe” and “Japan” in Cars 2 then? Hmmm?

9. So now we come to Wall.E, the time when machines have destroyed Earth utterly. Wall.E befriends a cockroach, and then decides to bring humans back. So they return and re-populate Earth again! And the pivotal item in the show, the sprout in the shoe, grows up into a big tree.

10. The tree turns out to be significant too, because it is actually the tree in A Bug’s Life! We know that cockroaches existed in Wall.E, so it isn’t a long shot to say that bugs went back to thriving on new Earth. Also, the bugs in the movie live astoundingly long lives, which goes to show they’re mutated futuristic bugs.

11. So how does Monsters Inc fit into all these? Well, the time of the monsters — which are actually mutated animals from the past, like beyond the mutation of A Bug’s Life — has come. The doors that the monsters go through to scare children are actually time travel doors. They take monsters back to the past when humans existed, which is why monsters were trained to be so deathly scared of them, because it’s like altering the past. And now that time travel has come into the picture, things become much more complex.

Do you remember Boo? The girl in Monsters Inc? Well, the only reason that the wood carving in Brave is of Sully is that the witch is actually Boo, all grown up (old). She was obsessed with seeing Sully again, so she studied magic and so she found out that wood is the source of magic (wooden doors, wood from the tree of A Bug’s Life). And so basically throughout the Pixar movies she has been a kind of Amane Suzuha from Steins;Gate, time-travelling away and leaving evidence of her travels with her.

There are a lot of other Easter eggs in the films (such as the Pizza Planet truck, which has appeared in almost every Pixar movie to date), but I didn’t bring them up because they were not peripheral to the theory. In any case, there are of course loopholes, such as the whole deal with animals being able to act like humans (I mean, how else does one tell a story?), and also Cars 2 featuring Earth places. If the cars could exist in a parallel universe, it doesn’t omit the possibility that Europe and Japan could exist in the parallel universe too.

That said, it is an interesting hypothesis. I would dearly like to see how they explain the subsequent movies. What do you think?

Also, the website for it is very nicely laid out (as befits a Pixar animation fan).

Rare Mental Ailments

One of the most interesting tidbits you can provide at a dinner party are weird rare mental disorders. It seems that whatever mental disorder you can imagine probably exists, from things like thinking that your mirror reflection is actually a real person looking back at you (I saw this on Cracked, and it’s called mirrored-self misidentification), to being certain that you’re already dead. Here are some that I’ve found that you may or may not have seen before.

1. Capgras Syndrome (also linked to Cotard Syndrome)

Capgras Syndrome manifests as a person being quite positive that his family members are not really his family members, but imposters who look like them. This results from an injury in the brain that cuts off the link between the visual centre and the amygdala — the emotional centre of the brain. Capgras Syndrome is more often than not the result of injury, and basically the person ends up not feeling any of the warm positive emotions they had before when looking at their loved ones. As they say, if you feel odd in front of the person, then there must be something wrong with the person, right?

Incidentally, this feeling also extends to places. He may also think that his home is not actually his home, even if it looks like it. It’s quite a sense of disorientation.

However, the good news is that it’s exclusively the visual centre that is affected. When the person hears the voice of his loved ones, he has no doubt at all that they are the real deal.

This is related to Cotard Syndrome, where the person is convinced that he has died and wherever he is in is Hell. It is because he also feels no emotion when looking around him, and reasons this time that he must be dead, which is why he feels nothing.

I can imagine how these people have to feel. It must be unsettling to see someone you love and no longer feel love, or even familiarity, for them.

2. Foerster’s Syndrome

An incident occurred in 1929 when neurosurgeon Ottrid Foerster was operating on a patient who had a tumour. He was performing surgery on the area when suddenly the patient burst into a “manic flight of puns”. Yes, the Foerster’s Syndrome describes a condition of “compulsive punning”, where each word leads to another by sound association, and in Foerster’s case all had something to do with knives or butchery.

On a more common note, there is a condition named Witzelsucht which is a tendency to make puns or tell inappropriate jokes in socially inappropriate situations. A rarer version of it is hypersexuality, which is making inappropriate sexual comments. There is a neurological basis for this, of course, and is not just because of the person being a dick.

3. Olfactory reference syndrome

This syndrome is particularly sad, but I believe possibly quite common. The whole syndrome basically revolves around a person believing that he emits an abnormal foul body odour, and that whenever people sniff around him or open the windows, it must be because of his terrible smell. Of course, such people would end up isolating themselves from society. Such people may claim that the smell comes from their mouth, genitals, skin, or that they don’t know where it comes from. They also differ in their claim of what smell it is. It could be a smell of faeces or urine, or a smell of ammonia or rotten onions. Either way, the person gets very embarrassed.

4. Smile mask syndrome

This isn’t very strange, but I wanted to bring it up because it is a very real condition we should take seriously. Smile mask syndrome is a state of depression and stress brought about by smiling too much. Naturally it is most obvious in the service industry, and also in countries like Japan and Korea where smiling is very important for social and workplace relations, and affects women more than men. Basically all this fake smiling gives them stress, muscle aches and headaches, and other psychological complications. Not only that, apparently when they related their mental distress to the psychiatrist, they were still smiling without knowing it.

Of course, if one looks at some salesmen in Singapore, one would not think they would ever have this disease. However, I start wondering if celebrities like Koike Teppei, whose livelihood is in smiling, might experience such symptoms too.

5. Fregoli delusion

Fregoli delusion is an interesting opposite to the Capgras delusion, in that in this case the person thinks that different people are actually the same person in disguise. That said, there are very very uncommon cases of both delusions co-existing. Not sure how it plays out.

It’s like how people like to say that you don’t know if different people on the internet are actually the same person using a different account. This is also linked to a belief that this one person is persecuting them, and is of course related to prosopagnosia, the inability to recognise faces.

Something somewhat associated is reduplicative paramnesia, where the person insists that a particular place is duplicated. So, say you’re in NUS. You insist that this NUS is not the NUS you’re familiar with, but that it is a duplicated NUS in Malaysia that looks precisely alike. In addition, you insist also that the people working in this NUS also work in that NUS, which is why you see all the same people.

6. Somatoparaphrenia

Somatoparaphrenia is the belief that a limb, or an entire side of your body, is not yours. Sometimes the person even cares for the limb and takes care of it as if it were a separate entity.

Apparently the way to treat it is to ask patients to look into a mirror. Through the mirror reflection, patients are convinced that indeed, it is their limb. However, once the mirror is taken away the delusion returns.

7. The Truman Show delusion

The Truman Show delusion is basically the person being convinced that he is in something like the Truman Show, where his entire life is just 1 staged show and their family and friends are paid actors.

The reason this delusion was so named is because 3 of the 5 patients that the researchers initially met had cited the show explicitly to link their perceived experiences. A powerful show indeed.


Everyone loves personality quizzes. They get to tell us all about ourselves (our favourite topic) and also provides a basis for comparison with other people, so we know for sure who is more superior in which ways. Talentoday is the new hit app among Singaporean Facebook users. It uses a hundred or so “would you rather” style questions to determine our relative scores on certain work-related strengths. It is slightly unnerving, though, that there is a Merlion-looking logo at the bottom, seemingly hinting that the government is also very interested in our scores.

If you’re interested, you can visit the website at and try out the profile. You’ll always be good at something so there’s no fear of turning in a profile announcing to the world what a good-for-nothing otaku hikkikomori you are.

Of course, there are a lot of drawbacks relating to this style of questionnaires, which are probably plainly obvious to you as well. For one, it only compares your relative score within the items, but doesn’t actually show how you fare with other people, or in absolute terms. Furthermore, a forced dichotomy where sometimes both choices seem to talk about the same thing means people may end up choosing the slightly better of 2 bad options.

Do you know that when you read a personality profile of yourself, you subtly change yourself to suit that profile? This is why astrology descriptions continue to be “accurate” to this day. The ones who believe it gradually change to become like it, thus making it a self-fulfilling prophecy. You can be sure that I will be more likely to organise and take responsibility in my work from now onwards.

Knowing about your strengths is also one way of making yourself happier, according to personality psychology. Of course, all the strengths in TalenToday are work-related, so they do not form the exhaustive list of possible character strengths a person can have. However, simply knowing what you’re good at increases your mood and self-esteem as you reflect back on the times when you have acted according to these strengths and perhaps achieved something as a result.

Some employees give psychometric tests to prospective employees as part of the job interview process. I believe I’ve mentioned this before in a previous entry about industrial and organisational psychology. Such tests, though, can come in 2 forms, Self-Report or Behavioural data. S data, the more common kind, would ask questions where the employers accept the answer at face value. Things like “I am prudent in my work”. B data, on the other hand, which is more often used by real psychologists to test for things like mental disorders, ask questions where they interpret the participants’ answers. For instance, things like “I am the best person in the world” isn’t the sort of question where employers believe the rating at face value. It may indicate narcissism, or lack of modesty, or some other things, depending on what scales they design.

I doubt Talentoday would have that big an impact on your working life or job prospects in the future, but it may give you an indicator on what you might want to do in your career.

Men vs Women

When I think of the Number 1 unresolved conflict in the world today, it’s got to be Men vs Women. Ever since young, we’ve known that men and women are different, and ever since birth, we’ve been forced to take a side (of course, many people still manage to sit on the fence, but the fact that they undeniably belong in 1 or the other category invalidates any attempt to be totally neutral one way or another). It’s no longer just a question of “which side is better?” Fortunately, society has evolved beyond that. Instead, the debate launches into the nitty-gritty areas of “which side is better in which aspects?” which is arguably not any less annoying.

The bottom line is this: research has failed to show any significant difference between males and females in terms of cognition. Even if there is any difference, the difference is pretty minuscule. So yes, if you’re bad at Maths, it is not because you’re a girl. It could be because of lack of practice, or lack of confidence, or applying the wrong mindset to the question. If you don’t understand why someone is sad, it is not because you’re a guy either. In fact, the reason why girls can’t get Maths and guys can’t get people boils down to 1 simple reason: you think the task is beyond you.

If all along people have taught you that it’s all right not to know how to do Maths or how to empathise with people, you start to think that there must be a whole lot to it that you don’t understand. When you think that there’s a whole lot to something that you don’t understand, you’re confident that every challenging situation you encounter must fall into the category of things you never learnt. For instance, a lot of the time when I give up on Maths questions, the answer is glaringly obvious. I would often retort, “well, how was I to know it was as simple as adding these 2 numbers together?” Similarly, if a guy learns that the reason somebody is sad could be because of something he said, he is likely to facepalm and go, “how was I to know? She could be sad because of anything. Girls are so unpredictable after all.” The unpredictability of Maths and the unpredictability of girls are a lot more similar than you would think, and it has something to do with a psychological term known as learnt helplessness, which basically means that once you think you cannot accomplish a task, you don’t put in any effort to it, and when you fail you think that the task was indeed impossible after all, and the vicious cycle continues.

A lot of the more visible differences we see in men and women are due to socialisation, girls being expected to be more agreeable and guys being expected to be more emotionally stable. I don’t deny that there is a little chance biology or hormones have a part to play in it though. Research has found that men have more intra-lobe neural connections whereas women have more inter-lobe neural connections. This means that men have more connections within the left and right hemispheres, and women have more links between hemispheres. This may explain how men may compartmentalise their problems well — philosophical problems are philosophical problems, emotional responses should be shelved — and women can utilise both logic and empathy on the same problem. Of course, this may also explain nothing. Not all biological differences have to express themselves as observable behavioural differences.

Much of this is my own stand, and there is a lot of research being done on a variety of gender differences. Currently, though, nothing suggests that either gender has its own niche that members of the other gender cannot step into. Whatever you want to do, you’ll be able to do it as well as anyone else.

The Queuing Mentality

It was Ben&Jerry’s Free Scoop Day on Tuesday, I believe. Did all of you get your free ice-cream? If you didn’t, it might have been due to the snaking queues at all outlets. Students at NUS (not sure if they were related to NUSSU, our Student Union) served the ice-cream right on campus, with assorted flavours like maple syrup and vanilla that they opened at different intervals. Some of you may know (I will not say more) that I managed to get 2 cups of different flavoured ice-cream (1 caramel and 1 strawberry) without spending any time queuing at all. Of course, there were several different factors contributing to my good luck.

First, most of the people were eyeing specific flavours like chocolate and vanilla. Perhaps those were better.

Second, students in NUS, unlike the public, are always rushing, be it for class or anything else. I have noted that once the queue extends up to a certain length, subsequent people are less likely to join the queue and more likely to complain to their friends, “the queue’s too long; forget it”.

Third, I was alone, and sneaking 1 cup of ice-cream is exponentially easier than 2 cups and more.

However, what amazed me was the level of social pressure going on in there, which inspires me to reflect a bit about the mentality of queuing up.

Have you ever seen a free giveaway where people were going “free stuff! free stuff!” and there was no queue? What did you think then? Were you eager to take the thing? Sometimes when you see that people don’t seem to want the freebie, you’re more inclined to think there must be something wrong with it too, and hence also refuse. However, when you see a queue forming, especially if it’s a short one or moving quickly, you’ll be more willing to join it. It’s almost like we want to spend some effort getting the thing, even if we don’t have to spend money.

My mother’s favourite queuing analogy is the buffet table. People tend to come to the buffet table at the same time, and queues miraculously form, with everyone standing patiently behind the first guy as he scoops the rice, leaving all the other dishes intact. Then the first guy moves on to the next dish, and the second person takes the rice, and the third guy passes plates to about 10 people behind him, even though you’re not sure why you can’t just take the plate when you reach it. Of course, when the buffet queues are already well established, it will be rude to cut ahead of people, but in the early stages of queue forming, it is perfectly okay to go to the other side of the table, or even, Heaven forbid, take the dishes out of order. Just take the dessert first, or at least the vegetables before the rice. People will stare, but you should stare back at them. They are the ones who, once again, want to put in the effort of starving a little before getting their food, for no good reason.

When economists say that people are rational and always out to get the best deals for themselves, it really isn’t always the case.

You’re Smarter Than Everyone Else… Really?

I learnt somewhere (forgot where, but most likely in one of my university psychology courses) that people honestly think of themselves as better than others in one aspect, and that is intelligence. You may be modest about your appearance, your charm, your industriousness, but many many people consistently think they’re cleverer than the “average person”. Research has shown that people will say, for instance, that they won’t be fooled by scams, but they rate that the average person is likely to fall for them. They say advertisements won’t persuade them to do things they don’t want to do, but that the “average person” is susceptible to persuasive advertisements (by the way, we are all more susceptible to ads than we think).

So it’s really funny how we think we’re cleverer than average. This is one way we boost our self-esteem. Another way is through the Fundamental Attribution Error, where we credit our successes to our own ability and our failures to circumstances. For instance, if you get full marks for your exams, you’d usually be like “yeah, I studied really hard for this one; it pays off!” If you fail your exam, you’d be like “the questions were tricky!” Do they sound familiar? I know they do to me. If I put it this way, doesn’t it sound like we’re pretty inconsistent and conceited people? Well, I wouldn’t deny that, but thinking this way keeps up a healthy self-esteem and makes us happy too. People who are the complete opposite — meaning they say they were just lucky if they succeeded at something, and if they fail they think it means they’re lousy — are very likely to suffer from depression. We have to think of ourselves positively, even unrealistically so, in order to keep up our motivations in life.

We exhibit a lot of other highly conceited biases too. For instance, once we learn that people are similar to us in some ways, we tend to rate them more positively in other areas and also express more liking towards them. Also, we tend to think that people of a category we do not belong in (for instance in terms of race) are all roughly the same, and possess certain stereotypes, yet we acknowledge that our own group or race comprise diverse people who cannot be lumped into one category. Have you ever encountered a situation where you think people of another country all look alike? It turns out that it’s not just you! Eyewitness testimonies have found that eyewitnesses are worse at identifying suspects when they are of a different race. It could be because we know what kind of differences to look out for in our own race (for example, we wouldn’t be preoccupied about skin colour) but aren’t such experts when it comes to another race.

So the next time you have certain ideas about yourself, or other people, you may want to take a step back and consider if your ideas about the “average person” may be inaccurate. Then again, maybe living in such a reality isn’t so bad after all.