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Incompetence as signal - The Ex-Communicator

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August 27th, 2009


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09:54 am - Incompetence as signal
There's an interesting post on Crooked Timber that accords with my view that (within certain limits) intelligence is a social performance: Incompetence as a signalling device.

This particular post is about a study of academics in Italian Universities who ostentatiously signal their incompetence and lack of ambition, as a survival mechanism in a competitive and patronage-dependent culture. However, I think that this is a very common social signal. We just notice it because Italian Universities have different social rules that Anglo ones. There were some comments yesterday about the people in any workplace who work very slowly and do very long hours, without showing much initiative. I believe this is a social signal of submissiveness, obedience, and deference to hierarchy.

I wouldn't be surprised if there are some kinds of physical neural issues which make some levels of competence easier for some people to perform. I hear that Usain Bolt's muscles are about 90% 'quick fire' fibres, whereas most people have a 50/50 mix of quick and slow fire. That may be genetic. However, if he hadn't devoted his life to cultivating that genetic accident, he wouldn't be the runner he is. He has chosen to be super-competent in his field.

(7 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


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From:splodgenoodles
Date:August 27th, 2009 11:59 am (UTC)
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Long hours without initiative - could also be a quiet protest. Doing it, but as slow as you can.
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From:communicator
Date:August 27th, 2009 12:51 pm (UTC)
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It's a good point, which I hadn't thought of.
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From:gfk88
Date:August 27th, 2009 01:15 pm (UTC)
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I bet we can think of a ton of different reasons why people do this. Even though I won't be very good at it, I've tried to list a few here:

-The Washing Up Strategy - surprising as it may seem, some men deliberately make a mess of certain household chores so that they won't be asked to do them again.

-Boasting and puffing up can get you seriously socially punished in our culture, so it's pretty common for people to understate their abilities.

-It's also quite a good workplace strategy to under-promise and over-deliver rather than the other way round, what with all those appraisals and bonuses measured against "expected performance". Though if you overdo it people start just believing you when you say you're a bit rubbish.

-It can be a lot more painful/humiliating to try and fail than just not try at all.

-Why have a dog and bark yourself ? Oi - toddler, come here and set the video for me will you ?

-I agree with that bit about working to rule being a protest. Quite often you find people showed a bit of initiative once and got slapped down, so they made up their mind never to get caught like that again.


And so on.
[User Picture]
From:communicator
Date:August 27th, 2009 01:17 pm (UTC)
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some men deliberately make a mess of certain household chores so that they won't be asked to do them again

OMG this changes everything
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From:kerravonsen
Date:August 27th, 2009 09:37 pm (UTC)
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Boasting and puffing up can get you seriously socially punished in our culture, so it's pretty common for people to understate their abilities.

I think it depends on the culture. At least, I get the impression that US culture expects you to blow your own trumpet -- at least more than in Australia, anyway; Americans come across as arrogant and boastful to us.
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From:hawkeye7
Date:August 27th, 2009 09:48 pm (UTC)
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I hear that Usain Bolt's muscles are about 90% 'quick fire' fibres, whereas most people have a 50/50 mix of quick and slow fire. That may be genetic.
It is genetic. If you have that sort of mix, and all of the world-class runners do, the Institute of Sport will place you in a sport like running. Athletes with 50/50 mixes are sent to team sports, where both types are required.
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From:communicator
Date:August 28th, 2009 05:15 am (UTC)
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I believe it is innate, though I suppose it could be argued that a regime of continuous sprinting could alter the development of muscles in a particular way.

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