April 16, 2008

Jerk behavior : girls :: hazing : frat boys

Two recent posts, one by Roissy and the other by RooshV, touch on the effectiveness of a guy behaving like an asshole toward his girlfriend, wife, or one-night-stand-to-be. Why is it that women of all stripes don't just tolerate, but often respond positively to jerk behavior?

Very few people are masochists -- think how quickly they would be weeded out of the genepool -- so we should look for a more rational explanation. To me, the situation seems similar to frat boys who put up with, and often look forward to the hazing process. Psychologists have speculated that frat members insist on hazing the inductees so that afterwards the newbies will think the frat is much better than it really is. *

We rationalize our choices after the fact in a way that makes us look good. We think something is better if we have had to sacrifice and endure more in order to get it because, otherwise, we would view ourselves as dupes. People likely think a nightclub is cooler if they're forced to wait outside for 30 to 60 minutes and get treated like scum by the doorman. I'll bet we think the same food tastes better when we're first treated like scum by a snobby maitre d' than when a peppy hostess welcomes us as her bestest new friends in, like, the whole world.

The new frat member may think the frat is cool, but is it cool enough to suffer the hazing process? If he admits the truth and says, "it's pretty nice, but I definitely got scammed," cognitive dissonance kicks in to salvage his self-image: "This place is so awesome, totally worth that silly hazing!"

Frat members can't go overboard during hazing, though -- and not just due to legal restrictions. Even if it were legal to really turn up the hazing, at some point the prospective members would say, "I'm not that stupid" (he's stupid, but only up to a point). They have to strike a balance between no hazing -- which would be a lost opportunity to exploit cognitive dissonance -- and overkill hazing -- which would prevent anyone from rushing at all.

Something similar could be going on when a desirable guy gives a girl the jerk treatment. Not just any guy can do so, just as frat inductees only accept hazing from frat members, not from any old group of strangers. That said, it forces her to inflate her rating of the guy, since otherwise she would think, "Wait, I just let myself get treated poorly to interact with a guy who's nice but by no means my dream guy -- I am a world-class sucker." Cognitive dissonance to the rescue! "He is acting a bit like a jerk, but he's so cool that I can overlook it." And again, the guy must strike the right balance of jerkness to get this result.

We are surrounded by examples of the grotesque, but when you scratch at it, human behavior appears more rational and less perverse than you first thought.

* There may also be a sunk-cost fallacy at work: "I've already invested so much during hazing, I can't eject now." In the case of the mistreated girl: "Well, I've already been insulted, so I might as well stick around and try to get something good out of the interaction to balance things out."


  1. The jerk behavior discussed in Roissy and RooshV is were instances of apparent over-reaction or disproportionately harsh self-defense. I believe it has less to do with sunk-cost fallacy, though I would grant that such a phenomena may have an effect, than with basic female admiration for male strength and status. To explain, a few analogies: do you want a nice-guy lawyer, or a lawyer who writes up a retainer for you so harsh you know you are not going to be able to F with him?; when you were playing high school sports and the other team responded to one of your teammates obvious penalties --albeit also obviously unintentional, by cracking him on the head, ganging up on him and basically challenging him to an all out fight, did you notice that those types of teams generally had winning records?; how did your team respond? did your teams have winning records?

    Basically, my theory is that a woman wants to be with a man who can protect himself, and that, especially for young men, the default stance might be better off as over-reaction rather than under reaction to slights, disrespect, etc etc. A woman would feel better, in a perhaps unacknowledgeable way, with a young man who over-reacts to slights than with a man who reacts in perfect justice. The perfect justice ideal might be good, as it would display some wit, but is riskier than just over-reacting. After all, let us acknowledge that the male is in the right in these instances. In Roissy's example, he's just getting back at her for hitting him on the head; in RooshV's he's just asserting his natural right regarding freedom of association.

    A young man can become wise later; first he needs to get some.

  2. Yeah, the specific events they were talking about involved going over-the-top, but the benefits of acting like a jerk show up even when she hasn't done anything awful to merit that response.

    Also like hazing, it ends once they've been "inducted" -- when you've won her over and are moving into building comfort with her.

  3. One problem with the hazing/jerk behavior comparison is that the frat is in a much stronger bargaining position than the man who is acting jerkily. Most college campuses have only a limited number of frat houses, and for various reasons a particular student may be able to select among only one or two. In addition, it's entirely likely that all of the frats engage in similar hazing practices. What this means is that a student who wants to join a frat generally has no choice but to accept hazing.

    In contrast, unless a man is extremely Alpha he doesn't have the ability to force women to accept his jerky behavior. If he acts jerkily enough women will just go elsewhere. A woman who's even remotely decent-looking pretty much has her choice of men in any nightclub. A college student does not have his choice of frats to join.

  4. That explains why the inductees may grin and bear it (they have no options), but it doesn't explain why the frat members haze.

    A man definitely does not have to be extremely alpha for his jerk behavior to work. Girls put up with shit from all sorts of losers, not just the objectively good catches.

  5. A lot of women have poor self-esteem. When I was younger, I used to feel like I didn't deserve better than what I caught.


You MUST enter a nickname with the "Name/URL" option if you're not signed in. We can't follow who is saying what if everyone is "Anonymous."