May 25, 2009

Applying behavioral economics to girls

Pickup artists talk a lot about evolutionary psychology, and sometimes about older social psychology. But while it's interesting to talk about, it offers very little in the way of concrete, practical advice. Instead, the focus should be on behavioral economics, which studies how real human beings make decisions under uncertainty -- say, a girl you meet in a club who you ask out. Of course, a lot of what pickup artists do is run their own behavioral economics experiments in the field. Still, there are lots of results from "the literature" that can be applied straightforwardly and powerfully to interacting with girls.

I read the new edition of Dan Ariely's book Predictably Irrational, and it's chock full of cool findings. Here's just one example:

Offer bar-goers two types of beer, one that is plain beer and another that is the same beer but laced with balsamic vinager. If you don't tell them about the vinager, people tend to rate the mixed drink higher. However, tell them before they choose that one is beer and the other is beer plus vinager, and they not only don't prefer the mixed drink as much, they pucker their mouths when they drink it. What if you let them choose blindly, and only after they've had a drink do you tell them about the vinager? They behave the same way as those who never knew it had vinager -- "Hey, whatever. Can I have another glass?"

The take-home message is that our pleasure is affected by our expectations. When we hear that the mixed drink has vinager, we expect something that will make our mouths pucker and turn us off. Extra knowledge can influence our pleasure, but only if it's beforehand -- once we've already had our taste buds tickled, it's too late to turn us off by revealing that we just drank beer plus vinager.

This settles the age-old arguments that people have about whether you should tell a girl up front about what she may think are "con" qualities, vs. tell her / let her find out after you've already hit it off and established a tight emotional and physical bond. Clearly, you should forget the so-called honest thing to do. If you get to know each other and end up enjoying each other's company, only then do you tell her -- at which point she probably won't care anyway. Don't sabotage the fun for both of you by blabbing about these things at the outset.

Here are two examples that are chosen to be extreme in order to prove the point:

1) As I said when remembering how an attractive alpha-female student of mine came on to me, she only asked how old I was long after she'd been smitten. So, based on the vinager-beer experiment, we'd expect her to not really care about how much older I was -- but still, she was 15 ("and a half!") and I was 25. That's a bit more of a revelation than a few drops of vinager in some beer. So how did she respond? "oh," she said bashfully, "well... i think age is just a number..."

She probably would not have let herself fall so easily had she known from the start that I was about 10 years older. But since she found out much later, it didn't matter.

2) What if the age gap were larger, and what if my absolute age were older too? Both of these changes would seem to stretch the limits of the effect. At the local teen dance club last year, there was a cute Brown girl who was about 5 feet tall, nice fat distribution, and really perky and energetic -- fairly close to my type:

She threw herself at me several times per evening, and over the course of several weekends. (Those Brown girls and their libidos.) One night, her busybody friend -- who must have won the cockblocking gold medal in the junior Olympics -- asked me how old I was in an old maid tone-of-voice. Normally I play it off, ask them to guess, say "hey, pretty close," and then that's it. But I'd had a drink that night and slipped up -- 27, I said matter-of-factly. "And you come to [this dance club]?" It was clear from her voice that she would take every free moment she had to try to poison her friend against me, and it shouldn't have been that hard -- they were both about 16, maybe even 15, and here I was a 27 year-old.

But nope. Each time I saw them, her petite, soft, dark friend ran up to me and pressed her body to mine, including the very night when I let my age slip. Once a girl starts fantasizing about this like totally cute boy she saw in the club, that's it. I could have said that I was wanted in four countries for serial murder, and she would've written it off -- "oh puh-lease. i mean, like, who doesn't have a few flaws, y'know??? gosh..."

Everyone has some qualities that someone of the opposite sex might initially raise an eyebrow at. For god's sake, don't blab it out before the interaction has really gone anywhere. Get close first, and then let them find out -- if it's necessary (and if not, just keep it to yourself). I know that to some people this may seem completely obvious, that "you don't need a study to show that." But there are plenty of people who deeply believe that honesty up-front is the best policy -- that you just need to put it all out there at the beginning, so that you start out with no lies and no secrets. These people are wrong.

They're welcome to behave that way, of course -- but they shouldn't expect it to work. And they shouldn't expect to enjoy life very much, since they set the other person up to form negative expectations right away. Some ingredients of the beer need to be kept secret in order to prevent us from spoiling our own fun.


  1. A bit of Shakespeare:

    When my love swears that she is made of truth
    I do believe her, though I know she lies,
    That she might think me some untutor’d youth,
    Unlearned in the world’s false subtleties.
    Thus vainly thinking that she thinks me young,
    Although she knows my days are past the best,
    Simply I credit her false-speaking tongue:
    On both sides thus is simple truth suppress’d.
    But wherefore says she not she is unjust?
    And wherefore say not I that I am old?
    O, love’s best habit is in seeming trust,
    And age in love loves not to have years told:

    Therefore I lie with her and she with me,
    And in our faults by lies we flatter’d be.

  2. good observation.........

    Ive always thought flattering movie reviews increased the public's appreciation of movies that really weren't all that good. If they were told over and over that it's critically well recieved or "an important -film-", they'd go in self-satisfied in their own good taste and would be prepared to like whatever showed up on the screen.

  3. Would you say this applies to men too?

  4. you're a feminist whore.

    that's all you need to know about psychology.

  5. I think as soon as anybody starts obsessing over any subject situation or person, they are bound to fail. Forget the vinegar in the beer example and just be yourself, that way if anything happens, the person who is with you is there because of you and not some story you concocted.


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