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Zvi comments on Doing your good deed for the day - Less Wrong

115 Post author: Yvain 27 October 2009 12:45AM

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Comment author: Zvi 27 October 2009 06:16:06PM 11 points [-]

These two effects can both be going on at the same time, and together the story makes sense. Suppose that any given person has a perception of themselves - do I eat a good diet, give to charity, or what not - and also keeps track of whether they have lived up to that person.

The foot-in-the-door trick works because while the requests are apparently unrelated, of course they are not: You've decided you are the type of person who puts signs up for a good cause, so this is something you would agree to again. This effect is in that context sufficient to overwhelm the feeling that they've "put up enough signs today," but as more signs were added this could change. They also probably want to be consistent with themselves.

However, the very point of the new study is that you now act less moral in an unrelated context. If I think of myself as someone who buys environmental products, that doesn't create a self-image of someone who is more generous in the dictator game or more honest.

This would suggest once again that the solution is to do only moral things that are worth doing, but also to especially focus on those that will change our moral view of ourselves, either overall or towards more productive actions.

Comment author: Unnamed 27 October 2009 11:55:50PM *  11 points [-]

There have been other studies showing that the self-image escalation effect (found in the foot-in-the-door study) extends beyond specific behaviors (like putting up signs) to more general types of behavior (like supporting good causes in the community) or personality traits (like honesty). In the study I described, signing a petition (instead of putting a sign in your window) also works at increasing your chances of agreeing to put a big sign in your yard. In another study, second graders were asked not to play with a desirable toy, using a mild request that made it seem (to the child) that it was their own choice not to play with the toy. The prediction was that this would lead the kids to see themselves as good boys/girls for not playing with the forbidden toy. Compared to a control group (or a group of children who were given a sterner warning, so that they saw the adult as requiring them not to play with the toy), those kids described themselves as more honest, and a couple weeks later they were less likely to cheat at a game in order to win a prize.