Whether we like it or not, social judgments determine some of our behaviors and decisions, even at the unconscious level. In fact, a study of behavioral science conducted at the University of Michigan showed that rejection and social exclusion share the same neural networks activated when we experience pain. It means that, social rejection hurts us because our brain is programmed to seek the approval of the group, an ancestral mechanism that granted survival to our ancestors.
Now a new study proposed to research the behaviors that most people consider as more foolish or stupid. These psychologists collected a number of stories in major Anglo-Saxon magazines and newspapers where appeared descriptions of people who had shown “stupid behaviors”. They also asked college students to keep a diary of incidents in which they have been involved or witnessed denoting behaviors cataloged as stupid.
They collected a total of 180 stories, chose some and manipulated its consequences as well as the level of responsibility of the person involved. Then they showed the stories to other people, who had to catalog them according to some factors. Thus they discovered there are some behaviors that seem particularly silly:
1. Overconfidence by ignorance. Refers to people who take risks because do not know with certainty the consequences of their actions, or because they don’t have the necessary skills or didn’t prepare enough. For those surveyed, these behaviors were the most stupid. An example is when we invest in a new work project in which we believe, but we fail because we did not analyze the market and took into account the real potential.
2. Lack of control. It mainly refers to behaviors that involve a lack of control caused by obsessive traits or addictions. Apparently, respondents believe that lack of self-control is a big issue, especially when prevents us from enjoying life and meet our social commitments. An example is when a young person cancels an appointment with a good friend without a good reason, just because he can’t disconnect from the videogame.
3. Absent mind. It refers to people who make mistakes because their mind is somewhere else while performing a task. Respondents believe that this behavior is so foolish that could even be hazardous to ourselves, exposing unnecessarily us to errors that could have been avoided only paying more attention. An example is when we submerged in a job but make a mistake because we are thinking about problems left at home.
Interestingly, the more serious were the consequences of the behavior and more responsibility had the person and bitter were the criticisms of respondents. This explains why we tend to be so critical with people who have power or exercise some leadership, like politicians, for example, as we asked them greater responsibility.
Avoiding foolish behaviors leads to a fuller life
The interesting thing is the behaviors that people categorized as more “stupid” also hold great lessons of life. In fact, we don’t try to avoid this type of behavior simply because our culture classifies them as “foolish” or unintelligent, but rather because they quit us points of our social status.
1. Ignorance vs. Preparation. When we learn to be proactive and look to the future, we move forward with firmer steps and greater confidence while avoiding mistakes that could cost a lot, either at financial or emotional level. In fact, embark on an adventure without considering the consequences is foolish and can end up undermining our self-esteem for the inadequate reasons.
2. Lack of control vs. Self-control. Self-control is one of the most important skills we can develop throughout our lives and allows us seize opportunities in a timely manner and avoids big troubles. In fact, self-control doesn’t mean limiting ourselves, on the contrary, it is the opportunity to be truly free because we won’t be slaves of our emotions or desires.
3. Absence vs. Presence. Living between the past and the future, between concerns and guilt, obtains only to steal our present. Unless we seize every moment, life will escape us in a heartbeat. Therefore it is very important to develop the attitude of being fully present, only this way we can enjoy the beautiful things of every instant.
Aczel, B., Palfi, B., & Kekecs, Z. (2015) What is stupid? Intelligence; 53: 51-58.
Hsu, D. T. et. Al. (2013) Response of the μ-opioid system to social rejection and acceptance. Molecular Psychiatry; 18: 1211-1217.