Hold Up: Laziness Is Contagious?!

Hold Up: Laziness Is Contagious?!

Ooft, this is harsh. A new study shows people tend to unconsciously imitate the lazy attitudes of those around them. So, um, blame your friends for your lack of drive, I suppose?

Researchers Jean Daunizeau and Marie Devaine, from INSERM in Paris, combined mathematical modelling and cognitive psychology to explore the laws that govern this “attitude alignment”. Thet asked 56 participants to make a series of decisions involving effort, both before and after having observed the decisions of fictitious participants (in fact: artificial intelligence algorithms) whose lazy attitudes were sensibly calibrated.

The study results show that participants are bound to a “false-consensus” bias. That is, they believe without evidence that the attitudes of others resemble their own. It also shows that people exhibit a “social influence” bias. Their attitude tends to become more similar to those of people around them.

Intriguingly, the social influence bias is partially determined by the false-consensus bias. It first increases with false-consensus (for small false-consensus biases), but then decreases with false-consensus (for large false-consensus biases). The researchers noted that participants seem to be mostly completely unaware of these biases.

Most damning is mathematical simulations demonstrate that both biases, and the surprising interaction between them, are hallmarks of a unique mechanism that is ideally suited to learning both about and from others’ covert attitudes. This is completely at odds with the conventional view that attitude alignment is an automatism that is triggered by the need to experience (partly deluded) feelings of social conformity.

“Our work is in line with an ongoing effort tending toward a computational understanding of human and animal cognition. In particular, we showed that formal information and decision theories provide invaluable insights regarding the nature and relationship of puzzling biases of social cognition,” say the researchers.

The researchers are currently applying this work to assess whether this form of attitude alignment may differ in people suffering from neuropsychiatric conditions, such as autism spectrum disorder and schizophrenia.