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Scientific Self-Help: The State of Our Knowledge

133 Post author: lukeprog 20 January 2011 08:44PM
Part of the sequence: The Science of Winning at Life

Some have suggested that the Less Wrong community could improve readers' instrumental rationality more effectively if it first caught up with the scientific literature on productivity and self-help, and then enabled readers to deliberately practice self-help skills and apply what they've learned in real life.

I think that's a good idea. My contribution today is a quick overview of scientific self-help: what professionals call "the psychology of adjustment." First I'll review the state of the industry and the scientific literature, and then I'll briefly summarize the scientific data available on three topics in self-help: study methods, productivity, and happiness.

The industry and the literature

As you probably know, much of the self-help industry is a sham, ripe for parody. Most self-help books are written to sell, not to help. Pop psychology may be more myth than fact. As Christopher Buckley (1999) writes, "The more people read [self-help books], the more they think they need them... [it's] more like an addiction than an alliance."

Where can you turn for reliable, empirically-based self-help advice? A few leading therapeutic psychologists (e.g., Albert Ellis, Arnold Lazarus, Martin Seligman) have written self-help books based on decades of research, but even these works tend to give recommendations that are still debated, because they aren't yet part of settled science.

Lifelong self-help researcher Clayton Tucker-Ladd wrote and updated Psychological Self-Help (pdf) over several decades. It's a summary of what scientists do and don't know about self-help methods (as of about 2003), but it's also more than 2,000 pages long, and much of it surveys scientific opinion rather than experimental results, because on many subjects there aren't any experimental results yet. The book is associated with an internet community of people sharing what does and doesn't work for them.

More immediately useful is Richard Wiseman's 59 Seconds. Wiseman is an experimental psychologist and paranormal investigator who gathered together what little self-help research is part of settled science, and put it into a short, fun, and useful Malcolm Gladwell-ish book. The next best popular-level general self-help book is perhaps Martin Seligman's What You Can Change and What You Can't.

Two large books rate hundreds of popular self-help books according to what professional psychologists think of them, and offer advice on how to choose self-help books. Unfortunately, this may not mean much because even professional psychologists very often have opinions that depart from the empirical data, as documented extensively by Scott Lilienfeld and others in Science and Pseudoscience in Clinical Psychology and Navigating the Mindfield. These two books are helpful in assessing what is and isn't known according to empirical research (rather than according to expert opinion). Lilienfeld also edits the useful journal Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice, and has compiled a list of harmful psychological treatments. Also see Nathan and Gorman's A Guide to Treatments That Work, Roth & Fonagy's What Works for Whom?, and, more generally, Stanovich's How to Think Straight about Psychology.

Many self-help books are written as "one size fits all," but of course this is rarely appropriate in psychology, and this leads to reader disappointment (Norem & Chang, 2000). But psychologists have tested the effectiveness of reading particular problem-focused self-help books ("bibliotherapy").1 For example, it appears that reading David Burns' Feeling Good can be as effective for treating depression as individual or group therapy. Results vary from book to book.

There are at least four university textbooks that teach basic scientific self-help. The first is Weiten, Dunn, and Hammer's Psychology Applied to Modern Life: Adjustment in the 21st Century. It's expensive, but you can preview it here. Others are are Santrock's Human Adjustment, Duffy et al.'s Psychology for Living, and Nevid & Rathus' Psychology and the Challenges of Life.

If you read only one book of self-help in your life, I recommend Weiten, Dunn, and Hammer's Psychology Applied to Modern Life.2 Unfortunately, like Tucker-Ladd's Psychological Self-Help, many sections of the book are an overview of scientific opinion rather than experimental result, because so few experimental studies on the subject have been done!

In private correspondance with me, Weiten remarked:

You are looking for substance in what is ultimately a black hole of empirical research ...Basically, almost everything written on the topic emphasizes the complete lack of evidence.

Perhaps I am overly cynical, but I suspect that empirical tests are nonexistent because the authors of self-help and time-management titles are not at all confident that the results would be favorable. Hence, they have no incentive to pursue such research because it is likely to undermine their sales and their ability to write their next book. Another issue is that many of the authors who crank out these titles have little or no background in research. In a less cynical vein, another issue is that this research would come with all the formidable complexities of the research evaluating the effectiveness of different approaches to therapy. Efficacy trials for therapies are extremely difficult to conduct in a clean fashion and because of these complexities require big bucks in the way of grants.

Other leading researchers in the psychology of adjustment expressed much the same opinion of the field when I contacted them.

 

A sampling of scientific self-help advice

Still, perhaps scientific psychology can offer some useful self-help advice. I'll focus on two areas of particular interest to the Less Wrong community - studying and productivity - and on one area of general interest: happiness.

 

Study methods

Organize for clarity the information you want to learn, for example in an outline (Einstein & McDaniel 2004; Tigner 1999; McDaniel et al. 1996). Cramming doesn't work (Wong 2006). Set up a schedule for studying (Allgood et al. 2000). Test yourself on the material (Karpicke & Roediger 2003; Roediger & Karpicke 2006a; Roediger & Karpicke 2006b; Agarwal et al. 2008; Butler & Roediger 2008), and do so repeatedly, with 24 hours or more between study sessions (Rohrer & Taylor 2006; Seabrook et al 2005; Cepeda et al. 2006; Rohrer et al. 2005; Karpicke & Roediger 2007). Basically: use Anki.

To retain studied information more effectively, try acrostics (Hermann et al. 2002), the link method (Iaccino 1996; Worthen 1997); and the method of loci (Massen & Vaterrodt-Plunnecke 2006; Moe & De Beni 2004; Moe & De Beni 2005).

 

Productivity

Unfortunately, there have been fewer experimental studies on effective productivity and time management methods than there have been on effective study methods. For an overview of scientific opinion on productivity, I recommend pages 121-126 of Psychology Applied to Modern Life. According to those pages, common advice from professionals includes:

  1. Doing the right tasks is more important than doing your tasks efficiently. In fact, too much concern for efficiency is a leading cause of procrastination. Say "no" more often, and use your time for tasks that really matter.
  2. Delegate responsibility as often as possible. Throw away unimportant tasks and items.
  3. Keep a record of your time use. (Quantified Self can help.)
  4. Write down your goals. Break them down into smaller goals, and break these into manageable tasks. Schedule these tasks into your calendar.
  5. Process notes and emails only once. Tackle one task at a time, and group similar tasks together.
  6. Make use of your downtime (plane rides, bus rides, doctor's office waitings). These days, many of your tasks can be completed on your smartphone.

Why the dearth of experimental research on productivity? A leading researcher on the topic, Piers Steel, explained to me in personal communication:

Fields tend to progress from description to experimentation, and the procrastination field is just starting to move towards that direction. There really isn’t very much directly done on procrastination, but there is more for the broader field of self-regulation... it should transfer as the fundamentals are the same. For example, I would bet everything I own that goal setting works, as there [are] about [a thousand studies] on it in the motivational field (just not specifically on procrastination). On the other hand, we are building a behavioral lab so we can test many of these techniques head to head, something that sorely needs to be done.

Steel's book on the subject is The Procrastination Equation, which I highly recommend.

 

Happiness

There is an abundance of research on factors that correlate with subjective well-being (individuals' own assessments of their happiness and life satisfaction).

Factors that don't correlate much with happiness include: age,3 gender,4 parenthood,5 intelligence,6 physical attractiveness,7 and money8 (as long as you're above the poverty line). Factors that correlate moderately with happiness include: health,9 social activity,10 and religiosity.11 Factors that correlate strongly with happiness include: genetics,12 love and relationship satisfaction,13 and work satisfaction.14

For many of these factors, a causal link to happiness has also been demonstrated with some confidence, but that story is too complicated to tell in this short article.

 

Conclusions

Many compassionate professionals have modeled their careers after George Miller's (1969) call to "give psychology away" to the masses as a means of promoting human welfare. As a result, hundreds of experimental studies have been done to test which self-help methods work, and which do not. We humans can use this knowledge to achieve our goals.

But much work remains to be done. Many features of human psychology and behavior are not well-understood, and many self-help methods recommended by popular and academic authors have not yet been experimentally tested. If you are considering psychology research as a career path, and you want to (1) improve human welfare, (2) get research funding, (3) explore an under-developed area of research, and (4) have the chance to write a best-selling self-help book once you've done some of your research, then please consider a career of experimentally testing different self-help methods. Humanity will thank you for it.

 

Next post: How to Beat Procrastination

 

 

Notes

1 Read a nice overview of the literature in Bergsma, "Do Self-Help Books Help?" (2008).

2 I recommend the 10th edition, which has large improvements over the 9th edition, including 4500 new citations.

3 Age and happiness are unrelated (Lykken 1999), age accounting for less than 1% of the variation in people's happiness (Inglehart 1990; Myers & Diener 1997).

4 Despite being treated for depressive disorders twice as often as men (Nolen-Hoeksema 2002), women report just as high levels of well-being as men do (Myers 1992).

5 Apparently, the joys and stresses of parenthood balance each other out, as people with and without children are equally happy (Argyle 2001).

6 Both IQ and educational attainment appear to be unrelated to happiness (Diener et al. 2009; Ross & Van Willigen 1997).

7 Good-looking people enjoy huge advantages, but do not report greater happiness than others (Diener et al. 1995).

8 The correlation between income and happiness is surprisingly weak (Diener & Seligman 2004; Diener et al. 1993; Johnson & Krueger 2006). One problem may be that higher income contributes to greater materialism, which impedes happiness (Frey & Stutzer 2002; Kasser et al. 2004; Solberg et al. 2002; Kasser 2002; Van Boven 2005; Nickerson et al. 2003; Kahneman et al. 2006).

9 Those with disabling health conditions are happier than you might think (Myers 1992; Riis et al. 2005; Argyle 1999).

10 Those who are satisfied with their social life are moderately more happy than others (Diener & Seligman 2004; Myers 1999; Diener & Seligman 2002).

11 Religiosity correlates with happiness (Abdel-Kahlek 2005; Myers 2008), though it may be religious attendance and not religious belief that matters (Chida et al. 2009).

12 Past happiness is the best predictor of future happiness (Lucas & Diener 2008). Happiness is surprisingly unmoved by external factors (Lykken & Tellegen 1996), because the genetics accounts for about 50% of the variance in happiness (Lyubomirsky et al. 2005; Stubbe et al. 2005).

13 Married people are happier than those who are single or divorced (Myers & Diener 1995; Diener et al. 2000), and marital satisfaction predicts happiness (Proulx et al. 2007).

14 Unemployment makes people very unhappy (Argyle 2001), and job satisfaction is strongly correlated with happiness (Judge & Klinger 2008; Warr 1999).

 

References

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Agarwal, Karpicke, Kang, Roediger, & McDermott (2008). "Examining the testing effect with open- and closed-book tests." Applied Cognitive Psychology, 22: 861-876.

Allgood, Risko, Alvarez, & Fairbanks (2000). "Factors that influence study." In Flippo & Caverly, (Eds.), Handbook of college reading and study strategy research. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Argyle (1999). "Causes and correlates of happiness." In Kahneman, Diener, & Schwartz (Eds.), Well-being: The foundations of hedonic psychology. New York: Sage.

Argyle (2001). The Psychology of Happiness (2nd ed.). New York: Routledge.

Buckley (1998). God is My Broker: A Monk-Tycoon Reveals the 7 1/2 Laws of Spiritual and Financial Growth. New York: Random House.

Butler & Roediger (2008). "Feedback enhances the positive effects and reduces the negative effects of multiple-choice testing." Memory & Cognition, 36(3).

Chida, Steptoe, & Powell (2009). "Religiosity/Spirituality and Mortality." Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics, 78(2): 81-90.

Cepeda, Pashler, Vul, Wixted, & Rohrer (2006). "Distributed practice in verbal recall tasks: A review and quantitative synthesis." Psychological Bulletin, 132: 354-380.

Diener, Sandvik, Seidlitz, & Diener (1993). "The relationship between income and subjective well-being: Relative or absolute?" Social Indicators Research, 28: 195-223.

Diener, Wolsic, & Fujita (1995). "Physical attractiveness and subjective well-being." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 69: 120-129.

Diener, Gohm, Suh, & Oishi (2000). "Similarity of the relations between marital status and subjective well-being across cultures." Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 31: 419-436.

Diener & Seligman (2002). "Very happy people." Psychological Science, 13: 80-83.

Diener & Seligman (2004). "Beyond money: Toward an economy of well-being." Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 5(1): 1-31.

Diener, Kesebir, & Tov (2009). "Happiness" In Leary & Hoyle (Eds.), Handbook of Individual Differences in Social Behavior (pp. 147-160). New York: Guilford.

Einstein & McDaniel (2004). Memory Fitness: A Guide for Successful Aging. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Frey & Stutzer (2002). "What can economists learn from happiness research?" Journal of Economic Literature, 40: 402-435.

Hermann, Raybeck, & Gruneberg (2002). Improving memory and study skills: Advances in theory and practice. Ashland, OH: Hogrefe & Huber.

Iaccino (1996). "A further examination of the bizarre imagery mnemonic: Its effectiveness with mixed context and delayed testing. Perceptual & Motor Skills, 83: 881-882.

Inglehart (1990). Culture shift in advanced industrial society. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Johnson & Krueger (2006). "How money buys happiness: Genetic and environmental processes linking finances and life satisfaction." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 90: 680-691.

Judge & Klinger (2008). "Job satisfaction: Subjective well-being at work." In Eid & Larsen (Eds.), The science of subjective well-being (pp. 393-413). New York: Guilford.

Kahneman, Krueger, Schkade, Schwarz, & Stone (2006). "Would you be happier if you were richer? A focusing illusion." Science, 312: 1908-1910.

Kasser (2002). The high prices of materialism. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Kasser, Ryan, Couchman, & Sheldon (2004). "Materialistic values: Their causes and consequences." In Kasser & Kanner (Eds.), Psychology and consumer culture: The struggle for a good life in a materialistic world. Washington DC: American Psychological Association.

Karpicke & Roediger (2003). "The critical importance of retrieval for learning." Science, 319: 966-968. 

Karpicke & Roediger (2007). "Expanding retrieval practice promotes short-term retention, but equally spaced retrieval enhances long-term retention." Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 33(4): 704-719.

Lucas & Diener (2008). "Personality and subjective well-being." In John, Robins, & Pervin (Eds.), Handbook of personality: Theory and research (pp. 796-814). New York: Guilford.

Lyubomirsky, Sheldon, & Schkade (2005). "Pursuing happiness: The architecture of sustainable change." Review of General Psychology, 9(2), 111-131.

Lykken & Tellegen (1996). "Happiness is a stochastic phenomenon." Psychological Science, 7: 186-189.

Lykken (1999). Happiness: The nature and nurture of joy and contentment. New York: St. Martin's.

Massen & Vaterrodt-Plunnecke (2006). "The role of proactive interference in mnemonic techniques." Memory, 14: 189-196.

McDaniel, Waddill, & Shakesby (1996). "Study strategies, interest, and learning from Text: The application of material appropriate processing." In Herrmann, McEvoy, Hertzog, Hertel, & Johnson (Eds.), Basic and applied memory research: Theory in context (Vol 1). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Miller (1969). "On turning psychology over to the unwashed." Psychology Today, 3(7), 53–54, 66–68, 70, 72, 74.

Moe & De Beni (2004). "Studying passages with the loci method: Are subject-generated more effective than experimenter-supplied loci?" Journal of Mental Imagery, 28(3-4): 75-86.

Moe & De Beni (2005). "Stressing the efficacy of the Loci method: oral presentation and the subject-generation of the Loci pathway with expository passages." Applied Cognitive Psychology, 19(1): 95-106.

Myers (1992). The pursuit of happiness: Who is happy, and why. New York: Morrow.

Myers & Diener (1995). "Who is happy?" Psychological Science, 6: 10-19.

Myers & Diener (1997). "The pursuit of happiness." Scientific American, Special Issue 7: 40-43.

Myers (1999). "Close relationships and quality of life." In Kahnemann, Diener, & Schwarz (Eds.), Well-being: The foundations of hedonic psychology. New York: Sage.

Myers (2008). "Religion and human flourishing." In Eid & Larsen (Eds.), The science of subjective well-being (pp. 323-346). New York: Guilford.

Nickerson, Schwartz, Diener, & Kahnemann (2003). "Zeroing in on the dark side of the American dream: A closer look at the negative consequences of the goal for financial success." Psychological Science, 14(6): 531-536.

Nolen-Hoeksema (2002). "Gender differences in depression." In Gotlib & Hammen (Eds.), Handbook of Depression. New York: Guilford.

Proulx, Helms, & Cheryl (2007). "Marital quality and personal well-being: A Meta-analysis." Journal of Marriage and Family, 69: 576-593.

Roediger & Karpicke (2006a). "Test-enhanced learning: Taking memory tests improves long-term retention." Psychological Science, 17: 249-255.

Roediger & Karpicke (2006b). "The power of testing memory: Basic research and implications for educational practice." Perspectives on Psychological Science, 1(3): 181-210.

Riis, Loewenstein, Baron, Jepson, Fagerlin, & Ubel (2005). "Ignorance of hedonic adaptation to hemodialysis: A study using ecological momentary assessment." Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 134: 3-9.

Rohrer & Taylor (2006). "The effects of over-learning and distributed practice on the retention of mathematics knowlege. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 20: 1209-1224. 

Rohrer, Taylor, Pashler, Wixted, & Cepeda (2005). "The Effect of Overlearning on Long-Term Retention." Applied Cognitive Psychology, 19: 361-374.

Ross & Van Willigen (1997). "Education and the subjective quality of life." Journal of Health & Social Behavior, 38: 275-297.

Seabrook, Brown, & Solity (2005). "Distributed and massed practice: From laboratory to class-room." Applied Cognitive Psychology, 19(1): 107-122.

Solberg, Diener, Wirtz, Lucas, & Oishi (2002). "Wanting, having, and satisfaction: Examining the role of desire discrepancies in satisfaction with income." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 83(3): 725-734.

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Warr (1999). "Well-being and the workplace." In Kahneman, Diener, & Schwartz (Eds.), Well-being: The foundations of hedonic psychology. New York: Sage.

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Comments (491)

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 22 January 2011 06:19:44PM *  43 points [-]

Happiness is surprisingly unmoved by external factors (Lykken & Tellegen 1996), because the genetics accounts for about 50% of the variance in happiness (Lyubomirsky et al. 2005; Stubbe et al. 2005).

Caution: heritability, as in the statistical concept, is defined in a way that has some rather counter-intuitive implications. One might think that if happiness is 50% heritable, then happiness must be 50% "hardwired". This is incorrect, and in fact the concept of heritability is theoretically incapable of making such a claim. (I'm not saying lukeprog made this mistake, but someone is likely to make it.)

The definition of heritability is straightforward enough: the amount of genetic variance in a trait, divided by the overall variance in the trait. Now, nearly all humans are born with two feet, so you might expect the trait of "having two feet" to have 100% heritability. In fact, it has close to 0% heritability! This is because the vast majority of people who have lost their feet have done so because of accidents or other environmental factors, not due to a gene for one-footedness. So nearly all of the variance in the amount of feet in humans is caused by environmental factors, making the heritability zero.

Another example is that if we have a trait that is strongly affected by the environment, but we manage to make the environment more uniform, then the heritability of the trait goes up. For instance, both childhood nutrition and genetics have a strong effect on a person's height. In today's society, we have relatively good social security nets helping give most kids at least a basic level of nutrition, a basic level which may not have been available for everyone in the past. So in the past there was more environmental variance involved in determining a person's height. Therefore the trait "height" may have been less hereditary in the past than now.

The heritability of some trait is always defined in relation to some specific population in some specific environment. There's no such thing as an "overall" heritability, valid in any environment. The heritability of a trait does not tell us whether that trait can be affected by outside interventions.

Comment author: wedrifid 22 January 2011 11:55:11PM *  5 points [-]

For instance, both childhood nutrition and genetics have a strong effect on a person's length.

Length? You mean height or, um, well, length? I suppose both. :)

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 23 January 2011 09:06:28AM 8 points [-]

Yeah, height. Fixed. Thanks - those are the same word in Finnish, and I hadn't consciously realized that they're different in English until now. (Well, technically there is a separate word for height in Finnish, but it isn't used in this context.)

Comment author: XFrequentist 23 January 2011 09:42:09PM *  21 points [-]

Just FYI, the joke in wedrif's comment is that "length" would probably be interpreted as "penis length" by most readers.

Comment author: Kaj_Sotala 23 January 2011 10:05:54PM 13 points [-]

That... never occurred to me.

Comment author: wedrifid 23 January 2011 09:52:24AM 17 points [-]

Well, technically you could use length in English too. People are just three dimensional objects after all. I mean, once you knock them off and are trying to fit the body in the trunk you definitely worry about the length!

Comment author: Will_Sawin 02 February 2011 06:58:27AM 1 point [-]

However, if we have an intervention whose effect we expect to be roughly proportional to environmental differences, heritability tells us roughly how strong that intervention is. Similarly if we expect that our interventions will reduce environmental variance but not genetic variance, we can place an upper limit on how much we can reduce inequality.

Comment author: steven0461 20 January 2011 09:43:54PM *  14 points [-]

Results like these should "only" hold on average; for some people they may be three times as true and for others the opposite of true. That suggests we shouldn't just copy these results, but we should supplement them with some self-modeling and self-experimentation, and the weirder we (and our situations) are along various dimensions, the more weight we should give this self-modeling and self-experimentation relative to the studies.

Comment author: JenniferRM 21 January 2011 07:59:10PM 16 points [-]

It seems this claim might itself be amenable to testing on groups of people to see if it "holds on average" across a spectrum of people who vary in the degree to which they are "weird". I suspect such a study would reveal uninformed self experimentation to be less effective than naively expected.

For most of my life I've had a useful heuristic for problems which is "seek out a self help book on the subject that seems relevant and is reasonably well recommended and try things in it if they seem like they might work". I got this heuristic from my mom, though I don't know whether it was her own invention or something she got from someone.

In any case, one of the ways she motivated the advice was to notice that on several distinct occasions she initially thought she was a unique snowflake with an unusual problem and then she found out from a book that lots of people had faced the same problem and were able to articulate surprisingly specific details of the problem that she'd thought where unique to her own circumstances. A sense of a problem being unique was even one of the things people would sometimes bring up as such a detail.

Based on this, its easy to see how people might not talk much about the painful or embarrassing things in their life, but its less obvious to carry that insight through to lowered estimates of one's own uniqueness and therefore a higher estimated value for finding usefully relevant literature.

One nice thing about "non-uniqueness" as a default assumption is that it trivially suggests a method of falsification for a problem: state your problem clearly, work out related keywords, and hit the library. If you don't find anything, then either you need to spend more skill points on library science, you have the wrong key words, or your problem is a genuine counter example and in that case it really would make more sense to deploy self-experimentation techniques instead of library skills.

Personally, having worked on and off according to the above theory for a while, the tricky part seems to be knowing the keywords to search for. On several occasions I've checked the library, found nothing, and only later learned that a literature existed but not where I was searching. Learning about new keywords is something I find LW to be really good for... its one of the concrete benefits I get out of the site. For example, before today, I'd never heard of "bibliotherapy" :-)

Comment author: CronoDAS 22 January 2011 03:29:38PM 4 points [-]

In any case, one of the ways she motivated the advice was to notice that on several distinct occasions she initially thought she was a unique snowflake with an unusual problem and then she found out from a book that lots of people had faced the same problem and were able to articulate surprisingly specific details of the problem that she'd thought where unique to her own circumstances. A sense of a problem being unique was even one of the things people would sometimes bring up as such a detail.

There are 6 billion people in the world. If you're one in a million, there are 6,000 people just like you. ;)

Comment author: arundelo 22 January 2011 05:59:56PM 8 points [-]

6 billion

7 billion!

There are facts that basically never change (the diameter of Earth) and there are facts that change fairly fast (the U.S. GDP; the temperature). There are also facts that change slowly enough that we tend to remember the first value we memorized for them (human population). Those last two sentences are an attempted summary of an article or blog post that I once read but can no longer find. Does this ring a bell for anyone?

Comment author: saturn 23 January 2011 07:52:37PM 9 points [-]

I think this is the article you read.

Comment author: arundelo 24 January 2011 05:16:50AM 2 points [-]

Oh hell yeah! My google-fu is pretty good, but I couldn't remember enough keywords to find that thing. Thanks!

satt also found mesofacts.org, a site founded by the author of the article I read and you found.

Comment author: satt 23 January 2011 07:24:37PM 4 points [-]
Comment author: arundelo 24 January 2011 05:17:38AM 1 point [-]

Yes! The article I read was actually the one that saturn found, by Mesofacts.org's founder (also linked from the site you found). Thanks!

Comment author: MartinB 22 January 2011 06:18:04PM *  1 point [-]

Yes. Its annoying if you base your habits around it. My grandmother had it cached how distance calls are super expensive. But in the last decade all land-line calls in Germany became either cheap, or flat feed. She would still cut them short.

Having the wrong number for the world population is probably not a problem.

Comment author: lukeprog 22 January 2011 07:04:17PM 1 point [-]

I completely agree that your knowledge can explode when you find the right keyword. Past examples for me include 'naturalism', 'formal epistemology', or 'distributed practice'.

Comment author: MartinB 22 January 2011 03:35:22PM 1 point [-]

And then we get these beautiful collections with methods and books for all segments of a problem.

It is worth to keep in mind how having the same problem does not mean having the same causes. So it is worth to have a few approaches and ideas to try.

Comment author: lukeprog 20 January 2011 10:02:29PM 3 points [-]

Yes, excellent point.

Comment author: lukeprog 31 January 2011 12:27:23AM 10 points [-]

Update: I added about 15 more direct PDF links to the original article.

Comment author: LauraABJ 23 January 2011 05:06:58AM 10 points [-]

Self help usually fails because people are terrible at identifying what their actual problems are. Even when they are told! (Ahh, sweet, sweet denial.) As a regular member of the (increasingly successful) OB-NYC meetup, I have witnessed a great deal of 'rationalist therapy,' and frequently we end up talking about something completely different from what the person originally asked for therapy for (myself included). The outside view of other people (preferably rationalists) is required to move forward on the vast majority of problems. We should also not underestimate the importance of social support and social accountability in general as positive motivating factors. Another reason that self-help might fail is that the people reading these particular techniques are trying to help themselves by themselves. I really hope others from this site take the initiative in forming supportive groups, like the one we have running in NYC.

Comment author: curiousepic 24 January 2011 03:04:09PM *  2 points [-]

frequently we end up talking about something completely different from what the person originally asked for therapy for (myself included)

Is this because you performed some sort of "root cause analysis", or simply where the conversation strayed?

Comment author: timtyler 20 January 2011 09:01:07PM 4 points [-]

My first thought was: what no Quantified Self?

Comment author: Jonathan_Graehl 26 January 2011 02:52:22AM 3 points [-]

Thanks for the "59 seconds" recommendation. A first-chapter writing exercise has already given me quite a thrill (although I'm not writing only to myself, but also copying a trusted friend). It's refreshingly concise so far.

Disclaimer: I'm moderately disposed toward receiving placebo benefits (though certainly aware of it).

Comment author: lukeprog 31 January 2011 12:28:36AM 1 point [-]

Glad you like it!

Comment author: ata 20 January 2011 09:08:46PM *  3 points [-]

A thought I've had about choosing self-help books:

Judging a self-help book by its average rating or reviews on sites like Amazon will probably be misleading. I'd suspect that they are frequently skewed toward higher ratings because of a reviewer self-selection bias: the sorts of people who need self-help books are often the people who will blame themselves for failing to benefit from a book, but will give the book credit (and glowing reviews) if they do get any benefit, which is often chance and/or temporary.

(If PJ Eby's hypothesis of "naturally struggling"/"naturally motivated" mindsets is correct, then those would be the naturally struggling people, while the naturally motivated people can benefit to some degree from almost any self-help book, which may contribute further to them getting more praise than they've earned.)

Comment author: pjeby 21 January 2011 04:07:03PM 6 points [-]

(If PJ Eby's hypothesis of "naturally struggling"/"naturally motivated" mindsets is correct,

See Dweck's research on growth vs. fixed mindsets, and Seligman on optimism vs. pessimism. There are definitely some dichotomies of this sort out there in reality, and in the better self-help literature ("better" as measured by, "I got better results from it") tend to group personality characteristics in similar ways: generally speaking, nobody confuses success characteristics and failure ones.

then those would be the naturally struggling people, while the naturally motivated people can benefit to some degree from almost any self-help book, which may contribute further to them getting more praise than they've earned.)

Naturally motivated people are actually more likely to write a positive review, but yes, people who are struggling can definitely get into a religious zeal about books that they have only read, but not applied. I used to do this myself all the time, and I frequently see it in the emails I get about my own writing.

It seems that this is just the response to feeling validated, justified, and to some extent forgiven for one's past misdeeds: the new book or tape or whatever has presented you with new information that you didn't have before... therefore, you couldn't possibly have been expected to achieve anything, and it's not your fault. What's more, you now have hope for the future as well, and that feels good.

What I'm actually wondering about is whether there's a way to harness this response for good. Like, if I could offer a program where you only get new stuff once you've actually learned some of the old stuff. Mechanically, that's not difficult to accomplish, but developing and sequencing the material is another thing altogether. (Really, sequencing is one of my biggest challenges these days.)

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 21 January 2011 06:20:43AM 4 points [-]

I check amazon reviews for whether the reviewer says they actually got any useful changes from the book. This is very rare compared to people who recommend self-help books for other reasons like being pleasant to read.

Comment author: sfb 21 January 2011 10:43:08PM 1 point [-]

Has that check helped you?

Whether someone learns advanced piano from a book must be at least as much down to whether they know intermediate piano up to the level the book starts at, as to whether the book is a good guide to advanced piano.

But those divisions of ability and knowledge are even less agreed on in self-help, so matching up where you "are" with a book is less easy, and whether someone else matched with any given book might not be of any real help at all.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 22 January 2011 12:03:03AM 1 point [-]

This does raise the rather embarrassing question of how many of my self-help books I've actually gotten some good out of, and it's something I need to evaluate.

However, the review filter I'm using isn't exactly for identifying which books to look into. It's for eliminating otherwise promising books unless they look very good, and I'm not sure that I've bought any books that no one has reported good results from.

Comment author: Vladimir_M 21 January 2011 03:31:05AM *  15 points [-]

One problem with self-help literature, very generally speaking, is that identifying one's shortcomings correctly and addressing them effectively requires, first and foremost, an accurate model of the relevant aspects of one's personality and typically also of the relevant social interactions. Humans, however, are notoriously self-delusional and hypocritical about these matters, and speaking the truth openly and explicitly is often taboo -- even though successful individuals recognize it at some level and adjust their actions accordingly, no matter how much (often honest) outrage they would feel if it were stated explicitly.

Therefore, in order to be palatable to public sensibilities, self-help literature must operate under two crippling constraints. First, it must sugar-coat the problem diagnosis and express it in a way that won't sound cruel, hurtful, and offensive to the relevant audience (and people almost invariably take accurate remarks about their flaws badly). Second, it must frame its solutions in a way that doesn't break the prevailing hypocritical rules about discussing the relevant social norms and social dynamics, or otherwise it will end up too far in the politically incorrect territory for mainstream success.

The best concrete illustration is also the biggest elephant in the room when it comes to discussions of self-help. I have in mind, of course, what is probably the most successful and effective body of self-help expertise ever devised, whose very mention however is guaranteed to arouse passions and provoke denunciations.

Comment author: Dr_Manhattan 21 January 2011 04:54:59PM 8 points [-]

First, it must sugar-coat the problem diagnosis and express it in a way that won't sound cruel, hurtful, and offensive to the relevant audience

Some religions took the opposite approach (appealing to guilt without much sugar-coating), seemingly with some success

Comment author: ata 21 January 2011 06:01:17AM *  25 points [-]

I think there are other important reasons for the comparative success and effectiveness of PUA; the lack of concern for sugar-coating and political correctness is probably part of it, but that may be more of a consequence of what drives it, rather than a necessary precondition for it.

  1. They have something to protect. Not a Great Cause, certainly, but a thing-to-protect nonetheless. PUA may not immediately sound like it matches "more than one's own life has to be at stake, before someone becomes desperate enough to override comfortable intuitions", but consider why the prospect of having commitment-free sex with lots of beautiful women may indeed seem higher stakes than life itself, for many heterosexual men...

    (I'm reminded of the words of Philip J. Fry: "So you have to choose between life without sex and a hideous, gruesome death? . . . Tough call.")

  2. They're playing to win, not just to convince themselves that they tried. I expect that PUA communities don't reward trying nearly as much as they reward winning (if they reward trying at all). (And, of course, male brains themselves reward winning (at this particular thing) much more than they reward trying. As do many male social hierarchies.)

  3. They have a natural drive to become stronger. I'm guessing that, for many of the guys who'd be into PUA in the first place, the prospect of even more and/or better sex would never fail to be compelling (or would at least have a very high ceiling), no matter how successful they already are.

  4. Although rationality (including instrumental rationality, including most of what we'd call "self-help") is a common interest of many causes, focused communities develop stronger and more precise arts. And I can't think of a more single-mindedly focused instrumental-rationality community than PUA. Probably one big problem with self-help is that it aims to help all kinds of people with all kinds of problems achieve all kinds of goals; there's too much ground to cover. Whereas PUA aims to help a few kinds of people with a few kinds of problems achieve essentially one goal. Its target demographic is large enough to produce successful communities, but specific enough to produce finely-targeted advice.

(Disclaimer: This comment shall not be taken as an endorsement of PUA. Overall I'm not a fan of it. But that should be separate from whether we can discuss it in the context of understanding the generalizable aspects of its instrumental success.)

Comment author: wedrifid 22 January 2011 06:56:31AM 7 points [-]

Today's SMBC strikes me as relevant, not to mention amusing (particularly the hover over text on the red button).

Comment author: RichardKennaway 21 January 2011 09:46:08AM 9 points [-]

I guessed you were talking about PUA from the very first paragraph. But as you conclude by saying (without naming it) that PUA is but one example, what other areas of self-help do you believe fit your description?

Comment author: Vladimir_M 21 January 2011 08:24:06PM *  17 points [-]

I don't know if I should take that to mean that my writing is praiseworthy for its clarity, or that I've become repetitive. In any case, that's an excellent question!

An immediately obvious example would be analogous advice for women. From what I know about the relevant matters, my impression is that if accurately formulated, it would in fact end up sounding even worse for mainstream sensibilities than the PUA stuff. Similarly for further advice (for both sexes) that builds on the PUA insights for successful long-term relationships and marriages.

Another topic that comes to mind is parenting. I'm not familiar with the self-help literature in this area, but there are some quite ugly truths which I'd bet these books don't say, for example how depressingly little you can do beyond the limits imposed by heredity. Moreover, fully accurate no-nonsense advice about what you can do to maximize your kids' expected success in life and happiness would require a cynical analysis of many respectable social institutions, customs, and beliefs, to the point where it would probably be too offensive for mainstream sensibilities.

Some other examples I can think of are too sensitive and potentially offensive to describe with a few casual words, so I'll stop at this for now.

Comment author: [deleted] 23 January 2011 03:17:47AM 15 points [-]

I voted your comment down for two reasons. The first is this:

Another topic that comes to mind is parenting. I'm not familiar with the self-help literature in this area, but there are some quite ugly truths which I'd bet these books don't say, for example how depressingly little you can do beyond the limits imposed by heredity.

Making sweeping statements about a subject with which you are admittedly unfamiliar seems like the sort of thing this community should discourage.

And in this particular case, I think you would be surprised. Parents come up against the limits of their power very, very early on, and modern parenting books are actually very forthright about it. Of course they try and put it nicely -- generally something like "You can't make a sweetpea into an azalea, but with good watering and fertile soil you can help your little sprout become the very best sweetpea he or she can be" -- but the message of being unable to push your child beyond the limits of their own aptitudes is made quite clearly and quite often.

The other reason I downvoted your comment was this:

Some other examples I can think of are too sensitive and potentially offensive to describe with a few casual words, so I'll stop at this for now.

This just seems unnecessarily coy. My guess is that you're talking about HBD, but I think you should either make your case or not bring it up at all.

I'm relatively new here and still learning the ropes--are comments explaining downvotes considered useful? I know I'd appreciate explanations when I get downvoted, but I don't know if others have the same preferences.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 23 January 2011 03:27:10AM 6 points [-]

are comments explaining downvotes considered useful?

Many people explicitly request them. They certainly aren't discouraged.

Comment author: [deleted] 23 January 2011 03:56:44AM 3 points [-]

Thanks!

Comment author: Vladimir_M 24 January 2011 08:47:55AM *  7 points [-]

siduri:

Parents come up against the limits of their power very, very early on, and modern parenting books are actually very forthright about it.

I stand corrected, if that's the case. I'm glad if things have changed so much for the better then. (My other point from that paragraph still stands, though.)

This just seems unnecessarily coy. My guess is that you're talking about HBD, but I think you should either make your case or not bring it up at all.

No, that's not what I had in mind. (And how on Earth did you get from the topic of self-help to that? Does my writing really evoke such strong stereotypical associations with those dark corners of the web?)

I wanted to make it clear that I do have more examples in mind (rather than generalizing from one example), but the trouble is that it's hard to state them briefly and bluntly in a way that's likely to be taken seriously and without offense on anyone's part.

Comment author: wedrifid 24 January 2011 09:50:12AM 11 points [-]

This just seems unnecessarily coy. My guess is that you're talking about HBD, but I think you should either make your case or not bring it up at all.

No, that's not what I had in mind. (And how on Earth did you get from the topic of self-help to that? Does my writing really evoke such strong stereotypical associations with those dark corners of the web?)

HBD Happy Birthday
HBD Homebrew Digest
HBD Here Be Dragons
HBD Hydrogen Bond Donor
HBD Has Been Drinking (police communications)
HBD Holden by Design (car enhancement company; Australia)
HBD Hadron Blind Detector
HBD Human Biodiversity
HBD Hypophosphatemic Bone Disease
HBD Hemoglobin--Delta Locus
HBD Hot Bearing Detector (trains)
HBD Half Board
HBD Honored By Death (gaming clan, Battlefield 2)
HBD Honored By Death (gaming clan)
HBD Hybrid Booster Drive (Electric Vehicle Institute)
HBD Handheld Business Device
HBD Hydraulic Bottom Detector
HBD Hierarchical Block Design
HBD Highest Benefit Density
HBD Hot Bus Driver

I can't even decipher HBD with google's help. Where is this dark corner of the web?

Comment author: shokwave 24 January 2011 10:01:11AM *  16 points [-]

HBD Human Biodiversity

Also known as race-realism, commonly associated with politically-incorrect but factually-supported statements like "blacks have lower IQs than whites", often found making the point that everybody accepts human biodiversity when it doesn't offend a minority - ie, recognising that West African heritage is advantageous for short-distance sprint running. 99% confident this is what was being hinted at.

Comment author: [deleted] 24 January 2011 04:09:17PM 21 points [-]

Um... hinting about how your opinions are too dark and dreadful to be posted publicly will make people assume that your opinions are whatever they imagine to be incredibly dark and dreadful. This is not a great communication strategy.

Comment author: steven0461 24 January 2011 10:43:37PM 11 points [-]

hinting about how your opinions are too dark and dreadful to be posted publicly will make people assume that your opinions are whatever they imagine to be incredibly dark and dreadful.

I would assume that, on average, the abstract fact that someone believes something horrible is easier to forget, harder to feel upset about, and harder to use against someone than the specific concrete details of the horrible thing.

Comment author: Oligopsony 25 January 2011 05:26:14PM 4 points [-]

I suppose it's a question of whether you want to mildly scandalize everyone or highly offend some people while sending a costly (and thus credible) "I'm on your side" signal to your comrades.

How many people, in the first instance, assume that you are coyly agreeing with them ("aha, a fellow oppressed racist!") is probably the most mysterious variable here, but it's probably more efficient to use shibboleths that outsiders haven't identified yet.

Comment author: HughRistik 24 January 2011 08:25:25PM 4 points [-]

Perhaps not, but it's great for suspense.

Comment author: Vladimir_M 24 January 2011 05:09:58PM *  2 points [-]

Well, there's a significant difference between "too sensitive and potentially offensive to describe with a few casual words" and "too dark and dreadful to be posted publicly." I think some other factors also played an important part in the association, especially since I don't even see how these things could be plausibly connected to the topic at hand in the given context.

Comment author: [deleted] 25 January 2011 05:40:37PM 2 points [-]

No, that's not what I had in mind. (And how on Earth did you get from the topic of self-help to that? Does my writing really evoke such strong stereotypical associations with those dark corners of the web?)

I wasn't the only one. But I apologize for misreading you.

I jumped there from the line "there are some quite ugly truths which I'd bet these books don't say, for example how depressingly little you can do beyond the limits imposed by heredity." The HBD crowd talks a lot about "ugly truths" involving "the limits imposed by heredity," too. I admit there's not much connection to self-help, although I'm moderately confident that a real HBD proponent would probably manufacture one if asked.

Comment author: Vladimir_M 25 January 2011 11:21:50PM *  3 points [-]

No need to apologize; in retrospect it's clear to me how you could have made that association. "HBD" (a term which I find quite silly) is not among my intellectual leitmotifs. In fact, I'm still not sure what to think of these controversies.

That said, however dangerous and incendiary this topic might be in the mainstream, on LW it's rarely approached but not at all problematic in the sense of inflaming passions and destroying discourse. Those few times I've seen it raised here, the discussion was entirely polite, knowledgeable, and without moral condemnations and protestations of offense. What exactly determines the patterns of dangerous discourse-breaking topics on LW and makes them different from the mainstream is a quite fascinating question, in my view.

Comment author: Vladimir_Nesov 23 January 2011 03:49:25AM *  10 points [-]

I'm relatively new here and still learning the ropes--are comments explaining downvotes considered useful?

You can avoid unnecessary meta by just pointing out the problems with a comment, without explicitly stating whether you also downvoted the comment for their presence.

Comment author: [deleted] 23 January 2011 03:56:02AM 2 points [-]

That's a good point. I'll do that in future.

Comment author: jsalvatier 22 January 2011 12:53:33AM 3 points [-]

Bryan Caplan has some interesting evidence based things to say on the topic of parenting. For example: on nagging children to eat their vegetables, he argues that parenting basically doesn't matter at all (link). He writes a lot about the evidence, economics and the family (link). Much of it is good.

Comment author: army1987 28 December 2012 01:06:00AM 1 point [-]

Another topic that comes to mind is parenting. I'm not familiar with the self-help literature in this area, but there are some quite ugly truths which I'd bet these books don't say, for example how depressingly little you can do beyond the limits imposed by heredity. Moreover, fully accurate no-nonsense advice about what you can do to maximize your kids' expected success in life and happiness would require a cynical analysis of many respectable social institutions, customs, and beliefs, to the point where it would probably be too offensive for mainstream sensibilities.

Less than two years later, Yvain is doing pretty much that on his blog.

Comment author: Anatoly_Vorobey 21 January 2011 04:37:08PM 6 points [-]

I have in mind, of course, what is probably the most successful and effective body of self-help expertise ever devised

How do you figure? Do you have any evidence?

Comment author: Vladimir_M 21 January 2011 07:19:19PM *  5 points [-]

Yes, but unfortunately not in a form that could be presented convincingly in a blog comment. It's mostly evidence from a mass of observation and anecdote, and the relevant facts I have established are indeed consistent with (and often successfully predicted by) these principles. More evidence also comes from their consistency with the facts about human nature and social dynamics I have observed in other areas of life, as well as the evident (to me) mispredictions and errors of logic and fact committed by pretty much all other popular sources of advice about the problems in question, especially those that, in contrast, enjoy mainstream respectability.

Comment author: Anatoly_Vorobey 23 January 2011 01:06:37AM 7 points [-]

Fair enough. I was just thinking that "ever devised" is a tall order, and perhaps you're not casting your net wide enough when thinking about it. For example, consider books of manners in general, or correct behavior for women in particular, in the 19th century, when they were ubiquitous, and apparently very useful due to increased social mobility. Or Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends etc., which probably outsells all PUA material by a wide margin. Is it possible that some of these have been more successful and effective?

Anyway, thanks for satisfying my curiosity.

Comment author: Vladimir_M 24 January 2011 08:54:26AM *  4 points [-]

These are indeed good examples, especially the first one. It is possible that by some reasonable measures of effectiveness some of them might be ahead. So yes, I agree that I might have cast my net too narrowly.

Comment author: HughRistik 24 January 2011 05:50:26AM 0 points [-]

How to Win Friends and Influence People is a good book for general social skills, but it just doesn't sufficiently cover sociosexual dynamics, particular gender-specific behavior and preferences. It's like taking an excellent algebra book to your trig class.

The book is unlikely to substitute for pickup, though it could be a complement, and some PUAs do read it. We should never expect gender-neutral advice to be sufficient for those who have difficulty attracting the other gender or understanding their psychology.

Comment author: Anatoly_Vorobey 24 January 2011 09:50:10AM *  6 points [-]

Well, when it was written, there was no dating scene in the modern sense, and most PUA recipes made no sense. The sociosexual dynamics were all different.

Naturally, Carnegie's book wouldn't work as a guide to pickup, but note that I suggested it to Vladimir_M not as a contender to PUA in terms of pickup effectiveness, but as a contender to PUA in terms of "self-help" effectiveness, generally speaking.

Comment author: fiddlemath 27 January 2011 05:46:23PM 2 points [-]

Yes, but unfortunately not in a form that could be presented convincingly in a blog comment.

Please try? If not in a blog comment, maybe a top-level post or a discussion post - or, if you think LW would react badly to the topic, in a blog post somewhere else, with a link?

I ask for two reasons: a) I'd like to be a little more certain that there's truth in PUA before I incorporate yet another heresy into my worldview, and b) for your own sake, it's immensely clarifying to reify any "mass of observation" into explicit claims with explicit accounts of your evidence. I've found (b) immensely helpful before; it's helped my clear away cant that I didn't know I labored under.

In fact, I suspect "this is a bad way to express my knowledge" may be a mental stop sign here, as I know it's been for me in the past. Similarly, "This summarizes my experience," full stop. It's hard to argue with, so it's hard to make clear in your own head.

Comment author: Vladimir_M 27 January 2011 06:34:45PM *  1 point [-]

b) for your own sake, it's immensely clarifying to reify any "mass of observation" into explicit claims with explicit accounts of your evidence. I've found (b) immensely helpful before; it's helped my clear away cant that I didn't know I labored under

I agree. However, the problem is that for reasons you'll probably understand, I'm not sure if I want to write too much about my personal life in public comments on the internet. It's very hard to write about such things without letting into the public more information than is desirable or prudent.

Fortunately, I am not the only source on this topic. I recommend that you look at the comments left in this thread (and many other ones you'll easily find by googling) by the commenter HughRistik. He has much more expertise than me in this area and has written a great many lengthy comments about it, all very well written and argued.

Comment author: gwern 21 January 2011 03:35:24AM 4 points [-]

You might as well just name them: pick up artists.

Comment author: lukeprog 21 January 2011 05:55:43AM *  12 points [-]

A few personal thoughts on that...

I've invested my time studying science and philosophy rather than in mastering attraction methods, but I've hung out with the Art of Charm / Pickup Podcast guys (cool, genuine guys btw), and read enough of the literature to give two humorous speeches based on PUA material: How to Seduce Women with Body Language and How to Seduce Women with Vocal Tonality.

If PUA is what Vladimir_M was writing about, then I mostly agree with his last paragraph. I don't know about "most" successful and effective, but it has certainly transformed the lives of lots of men for the better, including my own. And yet, it is denounced by almost everyone - perhaps because they're only familiar with mechanical, dishonest, The Game-era material? I dunno.

Good thing the PUA guys are figuring this stuff out on their own, because the scientists sure have left us in the dark, excepting very recent stuff by David Buss and, for example, that study about which dance moves attract the most women.

Comment author: [deleted] 21 January 2011 02:51:42PM 28 points [-]

I once had a friend tell me that he could sell me a $3000 vacuum cleaner.

"Really?" I said. "I don't think so. I know vacuum cleaners don't cost that much."

But he was certain of it. He'd sold dozens of these vacuum cleaners. His success rate had been tremendous. He believed they really were worth the money. The evidence really indicated that he could sell anyone a $3000 vacuum cleaner.

At this point... I really don't want him to try to sell me a vacuum cleaner. Or, in fact, to sell me anything. I'm scared he could get me to part with my money way too easily. That could be very bad for me!

Moral of the story: all charisma and salesmanship is, to some degree, a threat. Basically all people will be ok with "How to make a good first impression," but "Subconscious tricks to make everyone want to buy your product" is starting to sound a little sleazy, and "How to tap into neurochemistry to make your product addictive" is probably going to scare people. People get squicked by the thought of how World of Warcraft or McDonald's manipulates their reward circuits.

I think some analogous dynamics hold when the product you're selling is yourself.

Comment author: HughRistik 21 January 2011 08:05:30PM *  21 points [-]

all charisma and salesmanship is, to some degree, a threat

That's true. But when honest discussion of charisma is outlawed, only outlaws will have charisma.

Right now, a large share of male charisma falls into the hands of the "naturals." These men are disproportionately extraverted, oriented to short-term mating, and hyper-masculine / anti-social in personality traits. Of course, not all of these guys are assholes, and most of them probably aren't, but I think it's fair to say that they have a higher rate of assholishness. The only way to stop these men from commanding a disproportionate amount of female interest is to give more charisma to the guys who are more introverted, long-term oriented, sensitive, and prosocial in values.

To paraphrase William Gibson, charisma is already here, it's just not very evenly distributed. The only solution is to try to distribute it more evenly, and educate the public about how it works. In the case of male heterosexual charisma, it means educating the male have-nots, and educating women about what many of them respond to. This same principle applies to female charisma, of course.

Comment author: [deleted] 24 January 2011 03:58:47PM 4 points [-]

I agree with this.

My point was to explain why I think PUA gets a bad rap. Nobody wants to be bamboozled. Most of us who know a little bit about human psychology know we can be influenced and that influence, social skills, and charisma will always be important; only people who are very ill adjusted to the real world have a serious problem with this. It's a matter of degree. It's somewhat disturbing, I've observed, to realize you're being "played" by someone not entirely benevolent -- even more disturbing to realize how very easy it is to be manipulated into doing things that bring you no good and only harm. People are pretty frail vessels. It's understandable that they mistrust things that might take over their brains.

Comment author: SilasBarta 24 January 2011 05:42:07PM 6 points [-]

Think of PUA as makeup/breast implants for men. Does this make it less or more offensive? In what ways does the analogy break down?

Comment author: Nornagest 24 January 2011 08:04:25PM 2 points [-]

Since one of the more common criticisms of the PUA scene is that it perpetuates an oversimplified view of relationships wherein women respond exclusively to deterministic social signals, that analogy's not going to win you much goodwill.

There is a lot of PUA technique that amounts to an artificial means of improving unconscious or semi-conscious social signaling, and that strikes me as fairly inoffensive, but unless I'm one-minding badly here I don't think that part of the culture is a common target of criticism.

Comment author: SilasBarta 24 January 2011 08:59:53PM *  6 points [-]

Since one of the more common criticisms of the PUA scene is that it perpetuates an oversimplified view of relationships wherein women respond exclusively to deterministic social signals, that analogy's not going to win you much goodwill.

No more so than arguments for women using makeup or getting plastic surgery. Do these assume men respond exclusively to a woman's looks? Not really. It just says, do this, and more and better men will want you than before. Maybe other factors matter, maybe they don't, but this works, on top of whatever else might work. To the extent that PUA is offensive for insinuating women only care about a few metrics, so too are beauty products offensive.

There is a lot of PUA technique that amounts to an artificial means of improving unconscious or semi-conscious social signaling, and that strikes me as fairly inoffensive, but unless I'm one-minding badly here I don't think that part of the culture is a common target of criticism.

I'm afraid it is part of the criticism: people have this belief that social interaction should just come naturally and people shouldn't build models of it to understand it better -- so if you're a non-neurotypical, high IQ male, tough, you "deserve what you get", and any scientific approach to social interaction that is helpful to such undeserving males constitutes terrorism.

Comment author: army1987 28 December 2012 01:23:21AM 4 points [-]

There is a lot of PUA technique that amounts to an artificial means of improving unconscious or semi-conscious social signaling, and that strikes me as fairly inoffensive, but unless I'm one-minding badly here I don't think that part of the culture is a common target of criticism.

I think certain critics of the PUA culture don't even notice there are different parts to it, due to the outgroup homogeneity bias -- they just notice that certain PUAs say stuff they don't like, and generalize to PUAs in general. (The same thing happens to feminists.)

Comment author: Will_Newsome 24 January 2011 04:16:44PM *  2 points [-]

It's somewhat disturbing, I've observed, to realize you're being "played" by someone not entirely benevolent -- even more disturbing to realize how very easy it is to be manipulated into doing things that bring you no good and only harm.

Correspondingly it is somewhat disturbing to realize that you've been unreflectively manipulating someone in a way that is not very benevolent at all, which is also surprisingly easy to do, especially in situations where you have a lot of leverage in shaping someone's personality. I suspect that assholishness is largely unconscious, consciously self-deprecated, and addictive because it consistently yields id-appealing super-ego-unjustified reward. In my experience females tend to be more reflective of and feel more guilty about analagous forms of manipulation (perhaps because of having more opportunities to be manipulative), but this is an anecdotal small sample size.

ETA: I think it's rather aesthetic how there are all these implicit humanistic stories between the lines of the cold analysis... it's like somewhat ambiguous abstract lyrics in music. "Oily marks appear on walls where pleasure moments hung before the takeover, the sweeping insensitivity of this still life."

Comment author: MartinB 22 January 2011 03:17:18PM 3 points [-]

These men are disproportionately extraverted, oriented to short-term mating, and hyper-masculine / anti-social in personality traits.

I do not think this can be generalized that way. Naturally charismatic people can be long term oriented as well. And they surely also have their own shortcomings.

it means educating the male have-nots

Did you ever try that? If yes with what results?(My own experience lead to to completely stop trying.)

educating women about what many of them respond to

I would bet against that working. Did you try?

Comment author: sark 22 January 2011 01:54:25PM 1 point [-]

I'm thinking prisoner's dilemma here. If we all hold back, wouldn't it be better for all of us? Of course, some people - the naturals, the PUA guys - are already ahead. But knowledge of the outcome should not change our decision (cf. Good and Real - ethics chapter). Or perhaps compared to the huge payoffs of getting laid/love, these marginal efforts into keeping up with the arms race are worthwhile?

Comment author: wedrifid 22 January 2011 02:58:30PM 10 points [-]

If we all hold back, wouldn't it be better for all of us?

No. Doing the mating dance well is fun for all concerned. Mutual self sabotage of social skills would leave us all 'settling' for mediocre, ineptly handled relationships.

But knowledge of the outcome should not change our decision (cf. Good and Real - ethics chapter).

I don't think this applies.

Comment author: MartinB 22 January 2011 02:22:29PM 5 points [-]

There is this tendency to treat PU as a separate magister. Similar to learning secret but effective magic spell in a world where magic is widely unknown. I think that view is severely mistaken. There are two important things to keep in mind: PU has a wide range of ideas to offer for all kinds of purposes. Sturgeons law still applies. Some of the more useful advice boils down to: 'be freaking normal'. Much of it is copied by observing other successful people. So called 'Naturals'. If you take ideas that are good anyway from the PU container you are not practicing an evil dark art. You are studying applied social science.

I think it is sometimes useful to look at the idea itself, not at its source, or the metaethic that generated it.

Comment author: sark 22 January 2011 02:45:28PM 1 point [-]

Thanks. So I guess you are saying there is no arms race. Just naturals, and the socially inept?

Comment author: MartinB 22 January 2011 03:09:02PM 6 points [-]

No! There very much is an arms race. (There were studies about how many man of each generation got to procreate.) You have the most beautiful women in relatively poorer countries. You have women in the industrial world complain about the lack of real man, and run to those of other cultures who are perceived as more manly. You have a few males getting most of the sex from active non-married female crowd, and you also have unhappy 40yo virgins.6 You need to be relatively better than those around you. Which leads to interesting results if you act in male dominated fields :-). Naturals are not naturals by birth. They develop and hone their respective skills at some point and get a lot of practice in it. Likewise being inept is not a life time curse. You can learn things later in life too, assuming there is useful material available. But you do not need to become a complete master of any particular domain. Just good enough to get what you happen to want.

The point i tried to make above was another one. If someone is incapable to speak correctly he can go to a doctor and train. If someone wants to improve his vocality he can take acting classes, learn the ways actors use to speak varied and understandable. Which is good. If you are unhappy with your social life you can do very much the same. If a PU book then tells you to take acting classes to learn to speak better it does not suddenly become evil advice. It is the same. Just from a different source.

Comment author: wedrifid 22 January 2011 03:14:28PM 5 points [-]

Naturals are not naturals by birth. They develop and hone their respective skills at some point and get a lot of practice in it.

This is worth emphasising.

Comment author: sark 22 January 2011 04:19:10PM 1 point [-]

My point wasn't that PU was somehow unique in its 'evilness'. I would disapprove of speaking or acting classes as well if most of it was simply positional. So no, not attacking solely PU here, just anything that is positional and causes more grief than joy.

I like wedrifid's point of these social games being fun. I somehow managed to forget that. But this needs to be put into perspective of the desired end result here. Most people I'm sure would enjoy the journey of social dancing along the way to the destination of getting laid/love. But most of the utility is derived from the sex/love, not the dancing. Bored lovers might complain that their relationship was getting stale, but they are already much better of than the 40yr old virgins.

Let's not forget that anything 'fun' probably indicates that it is a status game. Which means there will be huge inequalities. If the final result of this instrumental pleasure (which is not to say it is all that matters, just the magnitude of its importance) were getting sex/love or not, then I am certainly willing to compromise some of the social fun for more people getting the sex/love they want.

Comment author: cousin_it 21 January 2011 05:25:35PM *  5 points [-]

When you're selling yourself, there's also an additional dynamic: Robin Hanson has argued that any method to win better mates than you appear to "deserve" genetically will be viewed as "unfair" by the opposite sex. For an example parallel to PUA, men may get squicked by this advice for women, even though they know it works.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 21 January 2011 05:45:05PM 7 points [-]

Does that advice really work? If a female acted the way that essay describes (especially in regards to keeping dates short and being rarely available) I'd just assume that they weren't interested but didn't have the guts to say so and move on.

Comment author: soreff 23 January 2011 04:30:46AM *  4 points [-]

Interesting question! Back in 1988, I met two women close to simultaneously. The one who made love with me is the one who I married. If the other one intended to be chased - well, she wasn't. "Hard to get" acted simply as a negative.

Comment author: cousin_it 21 January 2011 05:51:05PM *  4 points [-]

Haha, that's what many girls say about PUA techniques. "Wouldn't work on me!" Yet they work. Maybe we should get some girls' opinions about advice from The Rules: have they tried it? How effective was it?

Comment author: [deleted] 23 January 2011 12:54:40AM 27 points [-]

Certainly haven't followed it as a matter of conscious intent. I am pretty much only attracted to nerds (one of my personal rules, back when I was on the market, was that I would not date a guy who did not own a d20) and my reaction is that much of this is really horrible advice for the girl trawling the geek pool for a boyfriend.

For instance all the stuff about waiting for him to make the first move, expecting him to take the lead, etc, is just a recipe for two lovelorn nerds staring hopelessly at each other over the miniatures table (and never going any farther than that). I generally found it pretty easy to tell when a guy was into me, and I made some pretty blatant passes just to get the ball rolling.

For instance, with the man who is now my husband, I initiated our relationship by saying (this is a direct quote) "Hey, have you ever thought about you and me dating?" And I continued to take the lead in things like initiating our first kiss and the first time we went to bed together, because I knew I was a lot more experienced in that arena. On the other hand, most girls do like to be courted and I'm no exception, so there definitely was a point when I expected him to start taking the lead. But I didn't expect him to guess where it was. I told him straight up, "hey, I've kind of been the instigator up until now, but we're getting kind of serious and I'm not going to always be the one pushing our relationship to the next level. If we keep at this there are going to be a few milestones coming up--the first time someone says 'I love you' is the next one--and I'm not going to be the one to go first there, so, you know, just keep that in mind." So he was the one to use the "L-word" first, and he proposed marriage, and so forth.

We did end up having a fight on Valentine's Day, when I baked him cupcakes and he got me absolutely nothing, but the lesson I took away from that was not "dump him," it was "use your words." If I expect a present, I need to tell him, in English, that I want a present. Tone of voice does not count and neither does body language. He is not good with hints, even if they seem to me to be really, really obvious hints. He wants to do things that will make me happy, but he cannot be relied upon to guess what those things are. He and I are both much, much happier when I just tell him what I want.

So, "be mysterious" would have been terrible advice for me, and all that stuff about not signaling too much interest I think is counterproductive for "our kind" as well, since nerd guys often have a hard time picking up on it when a girl is flirting with them.

There are a few things in there that I think are useful. The old "never sleep with a guy before the third date" rule is one that I would probably endorse, except I would take out the "never." But in general I think being slow to jump in bed with people is a good, self-protective strategy for women. "Don't try to change him" is just good solid advice, and so is "don't date a married man." But yeah, I think for the gal batting her eyelashes at the company sysadmin, most of those rules are either not really applicable or downright counterproductive.

Which leads me to my objection to PUA stuff. I mean, a lot of it seems like harmless enough "Dumbo's feather" type stuff -- tricks to get shy guys to actually approach and interact with women in a way that signals confidence rather than desperation. I'm fine with all that and I can certainly see how it would be useful. But in the overarching philosophy -- it just seems like an incredibly alienating view of women. I know there's some lip-service to the idea of individual variation, but for the most part the PUA strategies encourage guys to see women almost like androids, all obeying the same script.

And from what I've seen of measurable differences between men and women, they exist as averages over large groups, but they are dwarfed by individual variances. Like, yes, men are on average taller and stronger than women. But Jill Mills could kick your ass. Women are human and as individuals we fall across the whole spectrum of human variance. All women are not alike, not any more than all men are alike.

So yeah, I don't have much trouble believing that PUA "works" in terms of helping guys pick up at singles bars. I'm a lot more skeptical that it "works" across a broader spectrum of experience. I have my doubts about how well it would work on nerd girls (I courted a few of them in my wild youth, too.)

And ultimately I worry about the damage that the PUA mindset does to relations between men and women as human beings--lord knows, reading Roissy's blog doesn't leave me with a lot of hope for the species.

Comment author: LauraABJ 23 January 2011 04:49:33AM 4 points [-]

You are very unusual. I love nerds too, and am currently in an amazing relationship with one, but even I have my limits. He needed to pursue me or I wouldn't have bothered. I was quite explicitly testing, and once he realized the game was one, he exceeded expectations. But yeah, there were a couple of months there when I thought, 'To hell with this! If he's not going to make a move at this point, he can't know what he's doing, and he certainly won't be any good at the business...'

Comment author: [deleted] 23 January 2011 05:24:03AM 19 points [-]

You are very unusual. I love nerds too, and am currently in an amazing relationship with one, but even I have my limits. He needed to pursue me or I wouldn't have bothered.

If I hadn't already had good evidence that he was crazy about me, I might have gone for more of that sort of testing, I don't know.

At the time I had this idea that I was going to be San Francisco's real-life superheroine. I would get a cape and a mask and call myself Mistra. I went as far as enrolling in a first-responder course and a Wing Chun class. I told Sam (now my husband, but at the time just a good friend) that he should be my sidekick, Fog Lad. He agreed to this plan. We started throwing around ideas for his costume.

Sometime after this it occurred to me literally in the shower that he must be in love with me, because I'm pretty sure guys don't agree to run around the city in tights calling themselves Fog Lad unless they are desperately in love with some chick.

So I told him I thought we should date, and then everything just went extremely well from there. Sadly, once we fell into bed together, we kind of got distracted and I stopped going to Wing Chun class, and San Francisco never did get its ace crimefighting team.

Comment author: wedrifid 23 January 2011 05:05:48AM 1 point [-]

But yeah, there were a couple of months there when I thought

A couple of months. Even that is a little unusual. :)

Comment author: Blueberry 23 January 2011 02:18:24AM 4 points [-]

Great post. I loved your approach with your husband and think that in general, most people would be better off following it (especially women).

[PUA] just seems like an incredibly alienating view of women. I know there's some lip-service to the idea of individual variation, but for the most part the PUA strategies encourage guys to see women almost like androids, all obeying the same script.

Your objection to PUA stuff is based on a certain view of PUA I don't think is accurate. In fact, one of the most helpful things to me about PUA was the idea that each person has an individual set of "attraction switches" and it's just a matter of finding them. This freed me up a lot.

And from what I've seen of measurable differences between men and women, they exist as averages over large groups, but they are dwarfed by individual variances.

I don't really think this is an issue of the differences between men and women. In fact, I think most of the PUA ideas apply equally well to men and women, because they're observations on human psychology. PUA gets applied mostly to women because it's mostly men who go after women, not because women are so different than men. The relevant distinction here is "friends" vs. "people you are attracted to and want to go after" -- a lot of PUA advice consists of distinguishing behaviors for these two categories -- not men vs. women.

And ultimately I worry about the damage that the PUA mindset does to relations between men and women as human beings--lord knows, reading Roissy's blog doesn't leave me with a lot of hope for the species.

I'm tempted to say "but Roissy is an idiot who has nothing to do with PUA!" However, I'm wary of committing the One True Scotsmen fallacy, and I suppose I have to admit that there is a portion of the PUA blogosphere that is misogynistic. I don't think that his blog is representative of most of the valuable stuff in the PUA community, and in fact his blog has been described as more of a "men going their own way" blog.

Comment author: [deleted] 23 January 2011 02:45:31AM *  2 points [-]

Your objection to PUA stuff is based on a certain view of PUA I don't think is accurate. In fact, one of the most helpful things to me about PUA was the idea that each person has an individual set of "attraction switches" and it's just a matter of finding them. This freed me up a lot.

Can you point me to a page that espouses that view? I googled for it and found this: http://www.seductionbase.com/seduction/cat/In_the_Middle/EC/218.html -- but it seems the opposite of what you're saying, as it's a list of "attraction switches" that will supposedly work for "most women." Now granted, they're all generically good things ("TRUST" and "CONFIDENCE" and "CHEMISTRY" are all fine things in a relationship, sure) but there's no mention of individual variation or any conception that different women may be looking for different things. Instead, the message is: flip these switches and "she's really going to be into you"! And then at the end the author writes "I'd love to see another list: of the switches to flip for a ONS [One Night Stand] -- the switches that over-ride the social programming and make her crave that adventure and abandon. " Like I said, it's women as androids. Flip the switches, override the programming, badda bing badda boom.

It just seems like a juvenile fantasy--women as sex robots, available to anyone who knows the override code. Not the kind of outlook that's actually going help a lonely guy make a genuine connection with a woman.

Comment author: rabidchicken 24 January 2011 02:49:31AM 1 point [-]

I really wish your approach was not so unusual... You would be doing humanity (and nerds) a favour if you wrote your own guide to dating for women. I don't think one book would change the insanity of human interaction, but it would probably help.

Comment author: [deleted] 21 January 2011 06:22:54PM *  10 points [-]

I'm atypical, but here's my take:

Some of it is common sense (she who cares least wins; look your best; avoid certain "turn-off" subjects; have standards regarding hygiene and considerateness.)

Some of it sounds distasteful (withholding personal information and intimacy sounds like a bad idea for relationships, but then again I may tend to be too trusting. The focus on "closing the deal" by making sure you marry within two years of meeting someone also seems problematic. I suspect these people do not care as much as I do about intellectual/emotional compatibility.)

Some of it is frankly unrealistic (gifts of flowers are not typical in all social circles. Making the man pay for everything is not always practical.)

From what I've seen of "The Rules" it's structurally different from PUA. PUA has a lot in common with marketing, and also a lot in common with general social skills advice. "Rules"-style dating advice for women is generally not an exercise in teaching social skills to awkward women. It's more about being strategic at dating (an area of life where admittedly too many people refuse to even consider using reasoned strategy.) It's hard to see how you could test whether it works, though. To see if PUA works, just go out and see if you can pick up women. To see if The Rules work, you have to see if you can marry an (implicitly rich) man -- that's a much longer time frame and you don't get as many trials!

Comment author: Jack 21 January 2011 08:11:15PM *  32 points [-]

Someone needs to write a Romantic comedy/tragedy where two people fall in love but they can never get together because the man is following PUA and the woman is following The Rules. They keep rushing to be the one to end phone conversations and both are always pretending to be too busy to go out with each other. The woman won't have sex until she gets flowers and the man won't give flowers until they have sex. Since both methods work they just fall more and more madly in love with each other but can never tell each other for fear of seeming too needy or desperate.

Comment author: [deleted] 23 January 2011 04:33:14PM 6 points [-]

If they were both following the online dating rules someone linked to earlier, it would all be over very quickly. Neither would reply to an email before at least 3 days have passed, but both ignore anyone who doesn't reply to an email within 3 days.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 21 January 2011 08:17:29PM 4 points [-]

A variant of this has been discussed in xkcd. I don't think that Munroe thought about the consequences as you have.

Comment author: rastilin 23 January 2011 05:21:02PM 1 point [-]

That would end pretty quickly. PUA tells you to drop a woman if she seems cagey about going out or you're not making progress by the second date. It's very much a numbers game, there are tens of thousands of unattached women in even the smallest city and on average, 4% are willing to do anything without any PUA skills being applied; if it's not working out just give up and go find someone else.

Comment author: MartinB 24 January 2011 07:49:06AM 1 point [-]

Someone needs to write a Romantic comedy/tragedy where two people fall in love but....

Romantic comedies assume there is a predestined partner who one ends up with after a series of ups and downs and a big showdown. That is not so in real life where everyone just moves on after a while. The fiction of romantic movies can really hurt the expectations of reality. Maybe someday someone researches the effect of chick flicks on the amount of unhappy involuntary singles due to unrealistic expectations.

Comment author: sark 22 January 2011 02:15:02PM 1 point [-]

Thankfully, our built-in (if imperfect) deontological-acausal ethics usually prevents that from happening to most of us.

Comment author: shokwave 24 January 2011 01:52:37AM 8 points [-]

The Rules is a filter women can apply to their dating. Being manipulated by, or at least not bothered by, certain things on that list (like double standards with responding), correlates strongly with desired personality traits. Most people will get bored with Rules-girls and move on. The ones that don't are far more likely to be the type desired. Assuming a dating woman knows what she desires, that is - I wager women using the Rules aren't as aware of what they are selecting for as pick-up artists are.

On PUA, the same thing applies: if you think those techniques wouldn't work on you, well, you're not the type pick-up artists are after.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 21 January 2011 07:19:41PM 1 point [-]

Part of what you label as common sense, avoiding certain "turn-off" subjects is on the list of things I don't understand. Why shouldn't people talk about their exes? Presumably if someone was an SO or close to being an SO then they were, you know, significant. Not talking about them places a substantial limit on what subjects the person is able to talk about. And are guys really so insecure that they feel uncomfortable just being reminded that the person they are dating has had other relationships?

Comment author: HughRistik 21 January 2011 09:22:38PM 4 points [-]

A big reason is that talk about exes can easily turn emotionally negative. Many mainstream people don't seem to be on good terms with their exes.

Comment author: rastilin 24 January 2011 06:55:43AM 1 point [-]

Aside from the possibility that you had a bad breakup and you end up complaining for several minutes, which isn't a good sign in a date. It raises the question of "What did those people find out about this person that I don't know yet that it caused them to break up with them.".

Comment author: Jack 21 January 2011 08:04:56PM *  3 points [-]

31. Don't Discuss The Rules with Your Therapist.

Anyone read the book and can explain what this is about?

Is this like "Don't discuss Heaven's Gate with your family"?

Comment author: Anatoly_Vorobey 21 January 2011 09:43:12PM *  5 points [-]

Sort of. I haven't read the book but was sufficiently amused to look this one up. They give three reasons: your therapist may think The Rules are manipulative and dishonest and dissuade you; your therapist may not realize how clueless and pathetic you are when you fall for a guy, if you don't have The Rules to protect you; you don't want to start debating this topic with your therapist, you'll lose your resolve to stick to The Rules.

Comment author: Zvi 25 January 2011 10:52:39PM 2 points [-]

I think it's more like "Don't discuss Zeus with your Rabbi."

Comment author: TheOtherDave 21 January 2011 05:39:45PM 7 points [-]

I wonder how this translates to the dynamics of communities where sexual attraction isn't constrained to opposite-sex pairings.

Comment author: cousin_it 22 January 2011 08:30:37AM *  2 points [-]

Very good point, I hadn't thought about that. Does there exist effective dating advice for gay people? It might be illuminating.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 22 January 2011 04:31:44PM 4 points [-]

Nothing I know of that's analogously mass-marketed.

Dan Savage is moderately popular in this space, but I suspect that he is to dating advice what talk radio is to political analysis: entertaining, vaguely topical, and mostly non-data-driven. Mostly his advice is to be attractive (exercise, grooming, etc.) and forthright (ask for what you want, walk away from what you don't want), which isn't bad advice as far as it goes.

More generally, there seems to be a sentiment in the gay male community that "playing hard to get" (which a lot of dating advice for het women seems to advise, and a lot of "dating" advice for het men seems to advise ways of neutralizing) is mostly a female thing, and gay guys simply shouldn't bother.

I have no particular reason to believe that this is <i>true</i>, though. In fact, I've seen enough queer men fascinated by the "is he or isn't he?" game with respect to attractive men of unspecified orientation that I rather doubt it. (I don't know if the analogous game is popular among queer women, though I'd be somewhat surprised if it weren't.)

That said, there was so much coyness ineluctably built into the gay dating scene by the fear of punishment for so long that I guess it's unsurprising that deliberate coyness is officially rejected. That rejection will probably fade as it becomes more and more taken for granted, as it seems to be becoming, that gay people can be publicly visible as romantic/sexual beings without risking assault or other forms of "reprisal".

Comment author: wedrifid 23 January 2011 04:24:11AM *  3 points [-]

For an example parallel to PUA, men may get squicked by this advice for women, even though they know it works.

That's an interesting list. A lot of those serve as general advice that tends to be given to guys too.

  • Always look great, whatever your income.
  • Never reveal information you don't have to. An enigmatic [man] drives [women] wild.
  • Try and stay in shape and involve some fitness regime at a gym.
  • Never be available when he wants you to be.
  • If he is available Tuesday, you are available Thursday.
  • Ensure you are a good kisser.
  • Never ever talk about previous [girlfriends], particularly their prowess in the bedroom. Your ex-[girlfriends] are your business only.
  • Never assume anything about your date until you choose to know him better. You cannot always tell by looking.
  • Never ever come across as too available or too desperate. [She] will run a mile.
  • If the [girl] in the corner is gorgeous, go get [her] and create the need in [her] for you. Never wait for [women] to come to you because you may watch [her] leave with someone else.
  • If you want a child, don't mention it on the first few dates.
  • Never ever criticize [her] mother unless you want to remain single.

Then there are some tips about evaluation strategies that guys tend to be warned to consider:

  • If any man shows the slightest signs of possessiveness or insecurity, run like the wind. Life is too short for boys.
  • If his shoes or hygiene are a disgrace, dump him.

(Yup. Shoes, and insecurity. Those two are the big ones in fashion and behavioral signalling respectively.)

Then there are others that guys are often suggested strategies for dealing with. (Such strategies vary rather a lot depending on individual identity, what kind of relationship is desired and pure arbitrariness.)

  • Let your man pay. If he is interested, he is interested enough to ensure you eat well and get home safely in a cab.

Often I'll do this as a hat tip to tradition or as a pure matter of convenience. It depends a bit on the girl. Sometimes it will pay for a meal then say, for example, that now she can take me and buy me icecream. With respect to the attitude conveyed in the above tip, if a girl does expect me to pay and conveys that then I expect her to do so from the position that it is a gesture that she appreciates, not her prerogative. I am not paying for her time, the transaction is 'time and company' for 'time and company'. She isn't a hooker!

  • Ensure you receive flowers. If he doesn't know what a florist is, dump him.

I like how the unreasonable tips come with "dump him" instructions. Dumping her would be hard work after all. Flowers are to add flavour of novelty within an established relationship and even then subject to preference.

  • Keep dates brief, but your men interested. Less is always more.

Yawn. Organising dates is a significant overhead. Short is the opposite of interesting to me.

  • Never ever sleep with a guy until he has fallen for you. Sex early in your dating game plan will ruin everything.

I have found sex too early in the relationship to sometimes be a mixed blessing. Primarily because it can sometimes cover over incompatibility or lack of other common interests. But I don't think that is what the tip is getting at (which is defintely squick).

  • Always keep a guy waiting and never turn up early. It is a lady's perogative.

I prefer to arrange meetings where no waiting for either party is required and there is a minimum of inconvenience if someone flakes. Apart from that there are all sorts of ways to handle this and other sorts of power play in a way that eliminates deliberate discourtesy while providing the best experience for both parties. That's where sharing strategies and successes with others who have found ways to handle a situation comes in handy.

  • Weekend shopping trips with girlfriends are sacred and not available for dates.

Sure, whatever. Just assume an approximately constant pool of 'asking out's with two or three potential times given for each ask out. Calibrate availability and acceptance accordingly.

From what I observe of my own behaviour in general, if doing something does not work then I go and do something (or in this case someone) else. Einstein would call that 'not being insane'.

  • Keep your man standing on quicksand by shifting landmarks and goalposts constantly.

I have fond memories of the time back in my teenage years when I realised that in dating, as in the rest of life, the only goalposts I have to worry about are my own. The approval of others is sometimes useful and sometimes it is fun to play other people's games. But other times it is more fun to reverse them or ignore them outright.

  • Never talk too much about your father and how your date measures up in comparison.
  • You may well have all the bodily functions of a man, just try not to demonstrate them early on.

(Whatever.)

  • Always reply to emails at least 3 days after receipt.
  • A man who doesn't reply to your email within 3 days should be ignored.

Now there is some real squick. My biggest peeve is bullshit double standards like that. Fortunately they are self screening once again.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 23 January 2011 04:41:44AM 4 points [-]

Some of these seem also just designed to cause maximum drama. Consider:

Let your man pay. If he is interested, he is interested enough to ensure you eat well and get home safely in a cab.

Many females I've dated get actively offended if I the guys try to pay rather than splitting the bill. And frankly, they have a right to be offended, giving the historical double standards that are associated with this sort of thing. That someone is trying to get females to insist on this while others use it as a test in the opposite direction? Yeah, this isn't going to lead to problems at all.

Comment author: wedrifid 23 January 2011 05:03:13AM 12 points [-]

Many females I've dated get actively offended if I the guys try to pay rather than splitting the bill. And frankly, they have a right to be offended

I wouldn't want to deny anyone the right to be offended at anything they please but for my part I would bid them politely goodnight and delete their phone number. Getting actively offended over things that are not a big deal is a huge red flag. It indicates either specific emotional issues or a generally high maintenance personality. I'll leave those girls to you Josh. :)

Some sample sane responses in such circumstances:

  • No, we'll split it.
  • Hey, none of that, Neanderthal! (With a smile and or fake arm slap to indicate lightheartedness. Equivalent to assertiveness with humor.)

Ideal response:

  • Sure, but I've got the next one!

This follows from a general principle that a propensity for taking offence is an unattractive trait and an indicator of immature boundaries. If you want something different ask for it or actively make it happen.

Comment author: anon895 24 January 2011 01:19:11PM 0 points [-]
  • No, we'll split it.

From what I've read, being able to credibly offer a free meal is a critical tool in some men's dating arsenal. Changing it to "well, if you want I'll pay, but I'd be really grateful if you'd chip in too" could leave him substantially weakened. Her making decisions on his behalf and talking about them as a couple after one date also seems like a bad sign.

  • Hey, none of that, Neanderthal! (With a smile and or fake arm slap to indicate lightheartedness. Equivalent to assertiveness with humor.)

"Ha, ha! It's funny because she insulted me and dismissed my sex's relevance as economic agents!"

  • Sure, but I've got the next one!

"So just because I was curious enough to spend some money to get to know her better, suddenly I'm at her beck and call? What kind of spineless plaything does she see me as?"

...and that's one of many reasons I hope I don't need to date.

Comment author: wedrifid 25 January 2011 02:55:51AM *  6 points [-]

Wow. All those could technically be valid interpretations. That's where things like body language and confidence come in. There is something to be said for interpreting everything in the best possible light. Occasionally (dependent highly on context) even when you know they intended it to be critical. (Although in this case they didn't).

  • Hey, none of that, Neanderthal! (With a smile and or fake arm slap to indicate lightheartedness. Equivalent to assertiveness with humor.)

"Ha, ha! It's funny because she insulted me and dismissed my sex's relevance as economic agents!"

For my part I find the ability to mock tradition and culture without getting personally insulted by it kind of endearing. In this case, again depending rather significantly on cues in the context, I would quite possibly go ahead and be sure to open doors for her and move her to the side of the pavement farthest from the road. Because teasing each other is fun, life isn't meant to be taken seriously and, incidentally, because it would be role playing the masculine stereotype light-heartedly.

Incidentally I don't consider 'Neanderthal' to be an insult. Neanderthals were awesome. ;)

Comment author: [deleted] 23 January 2011 04:59:18AM 6 points [-]

Many females I've dated get actively offended if I the guys try to pay rather than splitting the bill. And frankly, they have a right to be offended, giving the historical double standards that are associated with this sort of thing.

I have to admit, when I was dating, I would always offer to pay half the bill -- but I never went on a second date with any guy who took me up on it. I know this goes against the general policy of forthrightness that I otherwise followed, and I can't really defend the practice rationally. It probably was an area where I was following drives I didn't fully understand, maybe something about finding a man who was capable of the old-fashioned, stand-up, protect & provide business.

In any case I would definitely advise men to offer to pay on the first date. I mean, don't insist on it, but showing that you have money, and aren't stingy with it, is generally an attractive thing.

Comment author: Alicorn 23 January 2011 08:12:46PM 3 points [-]

When my date pays for things/establishes a trend of paying for things, it gives me permission not to fuss about money. I am very, very inclined to fuss about money if any of the money involved is mine, so I find it a huge load off my mind. (I go on first dates prepared to pay half if my date seems to prefer this idea when I ask, but preparing to do that before every date with a person I intended to see regularly would be rapidly exhausting for me, so I'd be leery of going on dates-that-could-cost-money with someone who doesn't demonstrate an inclination to pay - though this doesn't preclude 100% of possible second dates.)

Example: I recently dated a guy who took me out to movies (he paid), and we were trying to think of something else to do besides see movies. I proposed snow tubing, but then discovered that the only snow tubing place open in the area which had a device to pull the tubes up the hill was expensive. I dithered to him about this. If he had said something like "don't worry about that, I've got it", we would have gone snow tubing. He did not, so we didn't. (This didn't preclude another movie date after this non-event.)

Comment author: JoshuaZ 24 January 2011 01:02:59AM *  7 points [-]

I think the relevant joke and intended consequences is something like:

  1. I insert an obvious derogatory remark about a tribal group you are very loosely affiliated with.

  2. Since I am closely affiliated with that tribal group, this comment acts as a countersignal and ironically signals affiliation with that group. This also works because the group in question has a history of countersignaling in this fashion and calling it "humor".

  3. Since a disproportionate fraction up LW readers have past or present emotional connections to that tribal group, this raises my status at LW.

  4. (Something else very Hansonian occurs here)

  5. Profit.

ETA: And actually, this post also signals affiliation with nerdy internet people. Now if only I can find a way to simultaneous signal with people concerned about FAI and signal affiliation with paperclip maximizers, then I'm all set.

Comment author: arundelo 24 January 2011 06:10:51AM 5 points [-]

This is a nice example of a division of labor based on relative strengths (at least when your partner does not happen to have a similar aversion). For me, such a division is preferable to the idea that roles in (heterosexual) relationships are determined by the sexes of the respective partners.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 23 January 2011 08:31:28PM -1 points [-]

When my date pays for things/establishes a trend of paying for things, it gives me permission not to fuss about money. I am very, very inclined to fuss about money if any of the money involved is mine, so I find it a huge load off my mind.

Resisting temptation to make obvious joke about your paternal ancestry...

Comment author: wedrifid 23 January 2011 05:07:33AM *  3 points [-]

<indication of scorn for whoever it was who downvoted the parent for honesty and self awareness/>

Mind you the parent completely reverses the impression given by the earlier comment of "Wow, that's an attitude of the perfect girl for a nerd to be dating!"

Comment author: [deleted] 23 January 2011 05:28:56AM 3 points [-]

Mind you the parent completely reverses the impression given by the earlier comment of "Wow, that's an attitude of the perfect girl for a nerd to be dating!"

I know! I wasn't even aware of it as inconsistent at the time.

Comment author: JoshuaZ 23 January 2011 05:20:17AM 2 points [-]

Mind you the parent completely reverses the impression given by the earlier comment of "Wow, that's an attitude of the perfect girl for a nerd to be dating!"

Well, humans have lots of different behaviors and variation. It is extremely unlikely that anyone is going to be perfect. Moreover, everyone is influenced by cultural norms. As far as I can tell, that sort of thing is evidence more that people should try not to use any single warning sign as an absolute deal-killer unless it is very severe.

Comment author: taryneast 24 January 2011 11:42:38AM 2 points [-]

I have never had a guy offer to pay for my dinner. I guess Aussie blokes just don't tend to do that kind of thing. I think that if anyone ever did - I'd be so surprised that I'd accept. I'd certainly be happy to pay for the next meal (or coffee or whatever).

I'm told that, during WWII, the American soldiers that were stationed in Australia cleaned up on the dating scene - because they happened to still use those traditional behaviours. ;)

I totally understand the inclination to get upset if being treated unfairly - but these days, I'm pretty sure that most guys that hold a door open for you are not doing it because they think I'm incapable of doing it myself... so I smile and say thank you, and make sure I pay it forward for somebody else next time I have the opportunity.

Comment author: khafra 25 January 2011 12:01:27AM 3 points [-]

It seems that, steadfast allies as American GIs may have been to the ANZAC forces during combat, on the home front they were ruthless-if unknowing-defectors

Comment author: MartinB 23 January 2011 06:13:17PM 2 points [-]

but I never went on a second date with any guy who took me up on it

I doubt you followed that rule consistently. It looks like to much of a unimportant minimal indicator that should be superseded by the rest of the date.

But if you poll enough women you will find many such statements that contradict with the ones other women give. Getting angry for paying the bill, getting angry for not paying the bill. Expecting him to hold the door. Getting angry holding doors for her. There is no standard rule set to follow. And i find it ridiculous how women (or anyone) expect others to just know what they want without ever bothering to tell them.

Comment author: [deleted] 23 January 2011 07:02:46PM 6 points [-]

Another way of thinking about it might be that "paying the bill" or "not holding the door" are indicators of the man's personality, rather than terminal values of the woman. In this case, telling the man "I expect you to pay the bill" is counter-productive. It doesn't actually achieve anything the woman wants -- what she wants (in this hypothetical) is a man that would do this on his own. It merely eliminates "paying the bill" as a useful indicator of personality.

Granted, this strategy doesn't work well on a man who doesn't have an opinion on the matter and just wants to make the woman happy, but it's a plausible explanation.

Comment author: [deleted] 23 January 2011 07:35:41PM 3 points [-]

I think a lot of women are looking for a man who can create romantic experiences, start to finish, for them. I think that's what the "bill paying" business is really about. (If it were about money you could just ask what he does for a living.) And it's fun once in a while when someone has orchestrated an entire evening for you and taken care of all the details for you. But if you expect that regularly and don't reciprocate... I guess I disapprove of that. It reduces him to "The Guy Who Brings The Fun Stuff."

Comment author: anon895 24 January 2011 12:19:10PM *  2 points [-]

I got a little angry reading that (didn't follow the original link), but I'm feeling too lazy to discard the post I wrote, so:

  • Never ever talk about previous [girlfriends], particularly their prowess in the bedroom. Your ex-[girlfriends] are your business only.

Thereby signalling to her (if she were rational) that she'll be equally a nonentity to you in a year, and/or (if you actively avoid the subject) that you handled your past relationships badly and are likely to do the same for your next.

  • Never assume anything about your date until you choose to know him better. You cannot always tell by looking.

If I had video of every time that was hilariously bad advice for me back when I still expected human statements to necessarily mean things, I expect I could make a substantially better contribution to this thread.

  • If the [girl] in the corner is gorgeous, go get [her] and create the need in [her] for you. Never wait for [women] to come to you because you may watch [her] leave with someone else.

This appears to be a disguised problem statement: "If she perceives you as pursuing her, she'll run a mile, but if you wait for her to pursue you she won't. Therefore, use magic." So glad I'm a lifestyle-aspie where the rule is "if you want something from someone, ask, if you don't think that'll work, offer something in exchange, if you don't have anything to offer, do without".

My imagined "stereotypical advice" version of that sentence is more like "If the girl in the corner is gorgeous, too bad. The girl who actually talks to you and affects an interest in you will be gorgeous too if you let yourself see it, and you don't want to miss out on her just because you're hung up on someone else that you probably didn't have a chance with anyway.

  • Never ever criticize [her] mother unless you want to remain single.

God, I love family-as-applause-light. Just seeing "criticize" and "mother" next to each other looks dirty. Mothers are sweet and upstanding ladies who work hard to take care of their daughters!

  • If his shoes or hygiene are a disgrace, dump him.

The lack of any definition of "disgrace" makes me want to look over the others to see if they fit the pattern of "blank canvas for the reader to project her already existing behavior on".

Often I'll do this as a hat tip to tradition or as a pure matter of convenience. It depends a bit on the girl. Sometimes it will pay for a meal then say, for example, that now she can take me and buy me icecream.

Should "it" be I?

She isn't a hooker!

Also love "hooker" as boo light.

I like how the unreasonable tips come with "dump him" instructions. Dumping her would be hard work after all.

Are you implying that the page is saying that men withhold flowers from women as a less hard alternative to dumping them directly?

Einstein would call that 'not being insane'.

...but probably didn't.

Comment author: wedrifid 25 January 2011 03:03:02AM *  2 points [-]

I got a little angry reading that (didn't follow the original link)

Just so long as you don't interpret it as avocation from me (except where explicitly indicated). It is, after all, a bunch of dating tips given to women and presented here because it may 'squick' guys. Mind you most of them did not squick me at all and even then it was just a "I wouldn't date her" reaction. But other people not getting offended at something is sometimes itself taken as offensive so I don't mind if you are angry at me too. :)

I know you mentioned that you hope you never have to date. For those that do date an attractive trait tends to be the ability to accept the dating patterns of the desired demographic without discontent. The signalling reason for this is obvious.

Thereby signalling to her (if she were rational) that she'll be equally a nonentity to you in a year, and/or (if you actively avoid the subject) that you handled your past relationships badly and are likely to do the same for your next.

I wouldn't call that rational. A rational girl would assume that I don't have my entire history written down on my sleeve for all to see. I don't speak of all the important things in my life in all conversations. I would call that girl 'paranoid'.

So glad I'm a lifestyle-aspie where the rule is "if you want something from someone, ask

Not a bad approach at all. Not universally effective but the screening/signalling combo would work well for some combinations. :)

My imagined "stereotypical advice" version of that sentence is more like "If the girl in the corner is gorgeous, too bad. The girl who actually talks to you and affects an interest in you will be gorgeous too if you let yourself see it, and you don't want to miss out on her just because you're hung up on someone else that you probably didn't have a chance with anyway.

In that vein the actual sentiment in the tip would translate to actively seeking out those other 'gorgeous', interesting/interested people too, rather than waiting passively.

God, I love family-as-applause-light. Just seeing "criticize" and "mother" next to each other looks dirty. Mothers are sweet and upstanding ladies who work hard to take care of their daughters!

'Applause light' is a little different from 'personal - don't insult'.

Should "it" be I?

No. Just no.

Also love "hooker" as boo light.

Framing, like it or not, is incredibly important when dating. A particularly aggressive framing of "If I do <date/kiss/sleep with> then I am entitled to <X> material resource>" is an indication that a certain kind of relationship will follow and to some extent the type of personality of the girl. Again, it is how it is framed that is important more so than who actually pays for stuff. It also depends what kind of relationship you want.

Some people in some circumstances are looking for a more overtly transactional relationship than a partnership - rich middle aged men having affairs for example. Which is somewhat different to the provider/dominant-partner role that a less aggressive expectation that he will pay may indicate.

Are you implying that the page is saying that men withhold flowers from women as a less hard alternative to dumping them directly?

Almost certainly. It's a male conspiracy. The CIA is probably involved too. And aliens. And if the flowers don't work the Tin Foil Hat will every time.

...but probably didn't.

No, quite probably not. The "Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." attribution to Einstein is a cultural myth. But sometimes I humour culture on the little things. :)

Comment author: Zaine 15 April 2013 04:14:20AM *  0 points [-]

I prefer to arrange meetings where no waiting for either party is required and there is a minimum of inconvenience if someone flakes. Apart from that there are all sorts of ways to handle this and other sorts of power play in a way that eliminates deliberate discourtesy while providing the best experience for both parties. That's where sharing strategies and successes with others who have found ways to handle a situation comes in handy.

I had no idea such a thing were possible. Please share your strategies and successes for arranging those situations.

(I'm being purposely non-specific in the hopes of encouraging as much detail as possible; a good strategy for interviews and give-and-take, but for requesting particular information in an asynchronous exchange I'm unsure of its efficacy.)

Comment author: wedrifid 15 April 2013 04:37:07AM 0 points [-]

I had no idea such a thing were possible. Please share your strategies and successes for arranging those situations.

I presume wedrifid was essentially referring to making dates that were things you wanted to do anyway or meeting points where the waiting party has an alternative thing to be doing.

Comment author: Zaine 15 April 2013 04:51:45AM 0 points [-]

That was what I assumed, but to schedule a meeting where being late would not make the first arrival wait seems impossible to me. Perhaps a fair or festival? Those occur infrequently. A petting zoo? That's... not a bad idea, actually - but petting the animals would hardly be the main activity, and the animals could only entertain one for so long. At cinema one may feel to have been made to wait by seeing other tribes all around, even though the explicit activity is idle viewing. A talk? One may want to save a seat for the tardy party, but besides that a talk appears perfect.

Well, that's one "[meeting] where no waiting for either party is required...." I figured you or wedrifid might have a cache of events that fit that criterion and asked to hedge against figuratively 're-inventing the wheel'.

Comment author: army1987 28 December 2012 01:54:55AM 1 point [-]

Most of those don't offend me, and most of those that do offend me offend me because they're sexist, so I guess they wouldn't offend a counterfactual version of me who is more sexist. I suspect some of those are intended to be tongue-in-cheek. (But the one about e-mail immediately made me think about what would happen if both partners abode by it.)

Comment author: Will_Sawin 21 January 2011 10:33:54PM 1 point [-]

My reaction was that it's not very nice to intentionally titrate the time one spends interacting with me. It doesn't seem like anything else on the list is deceptive or otherwise squicky.

Comment author: wedrifid 22 January 2011 03:08:26AM *  1 point [-]

This is, of course, why 'self help' is best performed in communities where other people's agendas are not there to interfere with your progress. Given that success is for most part social and zero sum there will inevitably be epistemic pollution as a result of other people trying to influence your behaviour for their own purposes. Morality, after all, is mostly a tool used by people with (an appropriate kind of social) power to control the behaviour of those most vulnerable to its influence. (Note that sometimes it also serves a useful overall social purpose but it is not there to help you.)

Edit: If nothing else having specialised self help communities prevents every single remotely related conversation from ending up derailed into ethics.

Comment author: HughRistik 22 January 2011 06:51:05AM 6 points [-]

In my view, the problem isn't inherent in discussion of ethics, it's just that many notions of ethics (particularly in social interaction) are just hypocritical and wrong from the start. Basically, people's conventional ideas about "self", "authenticity", and "manipulation" are largely an ephemeral slave morality. (Sorry if I'm giving anyone inferential distance shock, but I've outlined this position in the past here in massively long comments that I'm too lazy to dig up.)

The problem with throwing out the ethical baby with the bathwater is that then it's hard to get help optimizing your self-improvement according to a particular vision of ethics.

Comment author: wedrifid 22 January 2011 07:02:45AM 1 point [-]

In my view, the problem isn't inherent in discussion of ethics, it's just that many notions of ethics (particularly in social interaction) are just hypocritical and wrong from the start.

I agree with you here and also note that what I am wary of is not environments in which ethical discussions take place but rather environments in which discussions pertaining simple instrumental or epistemic considerations are systematically diverted by ethical discussion or moral proscription. That is, it is what is lost and the implied introduction of bias into what remains that is the problem.

Comment author: Davorak 24 January 2011 09:27:48PM 2 points [-]

And yet, it is denounced by almost everyone - perhaps because they're only familiar with mechanical, dishonest, The Game-era material? I dunno.

It is a matter of definition for many people including myself. The PUA techniques fall in to the category of manipulation. If a technique is not a form of manipulation then it is not PUA.

Which works great for my personal definition, but it does not line up how people practicing PUA define it right? What percentage of PUA techniques would you consider manipulative. Do you have a better definition for me to use?

Comment author: HughRistik 24 January 2011 09:43:40PM 4 points [-]

It is a matter of definition for many people including myself. The PUA techniques fall in to the category of manipulation. If a technique is not a form of manipulation then it is not PUA.

This statement seems very a priori. What is your definition of "manipulation," and why do you say that PUA techniques fall into it?

Which works great for my personal definition, but it does not line up how people practicing PUA define it right?

I'm ready to taboo the word "manipulation," because it doesn't have a fixed meaning. Some people use it to mean morally-neutral intentional social influence. Other people use it to mean unethical intentional social influence. Others don't require intent in their definitions. The term invites equivocation.

In my view, I would use "manipulation" to mean unethical social influence, in which case calling any technique manipulative first requires that one show it to be unethical.

Comment author: Davorak 24 January 2011 11:03:44PM 1 point [-]

This statement seems very a priori. What is your definition of "manipulation," and why do you say that PUA techniques fall into it?

I did not.

I stated a definition that I am working from, then I would take the existing techniques described by others as PUA and decide weather or not I consider them PUA under my definition.

I did not take all techniques described as PUA by others and classify them as manipulative. This in fact is what causes PUA to be "denounced by almost everyone." I was offering a plausible explanation since lukeprog said he did not understand why people would do this.

Defining manipulation in terms of ethics just moves the problem from the word manipulate to ethics so all the definitions of manipulation in your post are inadequate to me.

How about deceptive or untruthful to obtain something wanted.

Comment author: HughRistik 24 January 2011 11:47:02PM *  4 points [-]

I did not take all techniques described as PUA by others and classify them as manipulative. This in fact is what causes PUA to be "denounced by almost everyone." I was offering a plausible explanation since lukeprog said he did not understand why people would do this.

Oh, I see. I thought you were asserting that position, rather than merely describing it. Thanks for clarifying.

Yes, I agree that one reason people denounce pickup PUAs is due to the non-rigorous folk-concept of "manipulation," whether that means. I'm sure it means something, and that it often does express some sort of valid objection... I'm just trying to find out what that objection is.

Defining manipulation in terms of ethics just moves the problem from the word manipulate to ethics so all the definitions of manipulation in your post are inadequate to me.

I agree with you that my attempted definition merely defers the problem. I would defend that deferral for two reasons:

  • When people say "X is manipulative," of social influence behavior X, they may often mean "X is unethical" (or more cynically: "I have an Ugh Field around X")
  • People might use "ethical" with more humility than "manipulative." People might be less likely to accuse behaviors of being unethical without explanation, while they have no qualms about making accusations of "manipulation" without explanation.

How about deceptive or untruthful to obtain something wanted.

This definition might capture some aspects of what people mean by "manipulation," but not others. For instance, I'll suggest that various forms of coercion would fall under the folk-concept of manipulation, even while being non-deceptive.

Whether that objection applies to PU is another question, of course. I think it's mostly overblown.

Comment author: Davorak 25 January 2011 12:20:07AM 2 points [-]

I'm just trying to find out what that objection is.

If a PUA technique is deceptive or untruthful then it deprives the person to be seduced from relavent information that could help them make a better decision. That is what I see at the heart of many peoples concerns, even if they are often not able to verbalize it.

Whether that objection applies to PU is another question, of course. I think it's mostly overblown.

You think that the objection that PUA techniques use deception or untruthfulness is overblown? Most men looking toward PUA are looking for something effective, so I would imagine that what are considered PUA techniques can be both deceptive or untruthful and the opposite because both can be effective(often for different goals and sometimes for the same goal).

Comment author: HughRistik 25 January 2011 06:08:42AM *  11 points [-]

If a PUA technique is deceptive or untruthful then it deprives the person to be seduced from relavent information that could help them make a better decision. That is what I see at the heart of many peoples concerns, even if they are often not able to verbalize it.

I think that's a plausible hypothesis about the "manipulation" objection to pickup. What I'm wondering is how those people are defining "manipulation."

You think that the objection that PUA techniques use deception or untruthfulness is overblown?

Yes.

I would speculate that the three main worries about deceptiveness and pickup are that (a) PUAs will lie about their relationship interest in order to trick women into sex, (b) PUAs will lie about their accomplishments, profession, and experiences, and (c) PUAs will be "putting on an act" socially and "acting like someone they are not." Do you think there are any other components to that objection?

(a) is probably just false, because PUAs don't advocate lying about relationship interest. Actually, PUAs are far more likely to display less relationship interest than they truly have, rather than more. There are various game-theoretic reasons why that can be a strong strategy, and I will make them more explicit if necessary.

(b) is false, except for white lies in routine-based pickup. Routines are hardly universal in the seduction community, and they are widely hated, even though some methods use them as training wheels. I discussed the ethics of white lies in routines in this post, where I argued:

Ok, then could you give me a specific example, other than one I've already stipulated (e.g. telling anecdotes about friends who don't exist during the first 10 minutes of conversation)? No, there isn't really a fight outside, and no, you don't really have a friend who is buying his girlfriend a cashmere sweater. But can't we excuse such white lies in helping people learn to socialize? Once a guy gets some social experience under his belt, then he will have entertaining anecdotes about friends that are actually true, and he will be as cool as those canned stories make him seem. [...]

I think that PUAs engaging in impression management, or even using scripts as a temporary measure to learn social skills, are not in the same moral category as substantive deception (lying about accomplishments, career, and income) or the same moral category as deception on a permanent basis (makeup, push-up bras). I think women should recognize that the intention of PUAs is not to deceive women about how they measure in qualities that women use to evaluate them, but to actually develop those qualities over the long term.

Although I'm personally not a fan of canned routines that contain factual untruths, I think such white lies (e.g. stories about imaginary friends within the first hour of conversation) could be justified on utilitarian grounds. The benefit of the user is high, because it keeps him in conversations that will allow him to learn social skills. The cost to people he interacts with is low. Furthermore, there is a benefit to women when he eventually learns social skills and discards routines, expanding the pool of datable men.

(c) is technically true, in that PUAs certainly do things that many people would call "putting on an act." In the past, I've argued that this judgment is unfair, because it presupposes a static notion of self and an overly restrictive and hierarchical notion of self-development. "Fake it 'til you make it" is a valid way of learning just about anything, and it gets unfairly hated on when applied to personal development. From the linked comment:

In my experience in real life, people who try to signal more social skills than they actually have tend to get seen through or make people feel uncomfortable almost immediately, or get believed on a permanent basis. While I think it's possible to hit somewhere in between, where people initially think you're cool and then later decide that you're a loser, doing so is hard, because signaling substantially more social skills than you actually have is hard.

I suspect that most of the time, the amount of social skills that someone can "fake" is about the level of social skills they could attain if they would practice a bit, get some good reactions from people, and believes in themselves. In some cases, merely one or two tries of a new social behavior with such positive results are enough to grant you that social skill.

Predicting how you would act if you were more socially skilled than you actually are, and pulling it off, is almost as paradoxical a notion as predicting what you would think if you were more intelligent than you actually are. To predict what the more intelligent / socially-skilled version of you would do, then you would need that level of intelligence / social skills!

Social reality doesn't work by the same rules as physical reality. Any notion of deception presupposes that there is some sort of truth being hidden, but often in the exterior social world and the interior world of self, it's hard to say what is true. You can partially change yourself merely by changing your self-narrative (to use Daniel Dennett's terminology).

Sorry to throw so much stuff at you all at once, but I hope the reasoning I've presenting in this post, and the linked posts, starts to show why I believe that the "deception" criticism of pickup is overblown. Let me know if you have any objections, or if there is anything that still bothers you (or might bother other people).

In my mind, the real problem with pickup is that some particular techniques and mindsets are toxic. Some techniques have a negative expected value. Some attitudes result in morally-neutral techniques being applied in negative ways.

Comment author: Jack 25 January 2011 06:43:22AM *  13 points [-]

Something I think a lot of people don't understand- particularly the type that stay in on a Saturday night to write critiques of PU- is that your average urban bar scene isn't anything like the real world. It's night time. Everyone is dressed and made up to look about as good as they will ever look. Everyone is drinking. In other words, nearly everyone is in costume and on drugs! The preferences people have in such circumstances only vaguely resemble the preferences they have during daytime hours. The whole affair is perhaps best described as a collective game of make believe where we all pretend to be sexy and cool and fun for four hours. It is theatre.

Of course viewing this near-mode orgy of cool and constant stream of negotiations to fulfill base desires is going to look perverted under the cool gaze of far-mode ethics. The denouncement of PUA deception under these circumstances feels a bit like denouncing self-awareness. Everyone sometimes pretends to be someone a little bit sexier and cooler than they really are- PUAs seem unique in that they do so systematically and self-consciously.

Now of yes, there are those who criticize the entirety of nightlife culture- often calling it 'rape culture'. And indeed, we should have well-embedded mental constraints on our hedonism to avoid doing things that are actually harmful. In this regard though, the sub-surface self-awareness that distinguishes the pick-up artist from the natural would likely be a boon.

Comment author: [deleted] 25 January 2011 12:02:28PM *  16 points [-]

Actually, “pretending to be sexy,” aka projecting confidence, social dominance, good looks, etc., doesn’t bother me in the slightest. I know a lot of PUA focuses on stuff like that, and I think that’s great; I’ve seen it have a positive influence on friends of mine, and vastly improve their lives, without compromising their ethics. I think this sort of training falls under "self-improvement," and I think it's an unalloyed good thing, and from what I can tell, this is exactly what you've been teaching and promoting.

I’m bothered by what I think of as “compliance tricks,” which I’ve also seen recommended in a PUA context.

That is, when you get someone to do things that she doesn’t want or like, using commitment effects and manipulating her own guilt, awkwardness, and desire to please. Or playing on her insecurities so she doesn't feel she deserves to refuse. I’ve been on the receiving end of a mild version of this: it’s possible to make me do things that are bad for me just by being “dominating” and making me feel too awkward to refuse a favor. This is similar to the Milgram Experiment. People can be remarkably unwilling to say “No” to someone who expects to be obeyed, and people can be willing to harm others or themselves just to avoid a reprimand, a stern look, or social awkwardness.

A man who understands this can get sex just by using compliance tricks (especially if he uses them on an especially timid or docile woman.) He doesn’t necessarily have to be cool or charming – he can be unattractive and creepy – but he can make a woman feel bad about saying “No” very effectively if he’s good at psychology, and he can make her life worse. I think this is why there’s a lot of feminist talk about “No means no” and consent and so on – because women are socialized to try to please people and go along with others’ desires, and can be put in harmful situations by people who take advantage of their reluctance to give a direct “No.”

Maybe that in itself isn’t a crime; maybe unfulfilling, not-quite-desired sex isn’t the worst thing in the world; but as a general rule, I think compliance tricks are pretty disturbing. People have permitted genocide and tyranny -- and, less dramatically, ruined their own lives -- because they were too awkward or meek to say “No,” and someone took advantage of their meekness. The victim of a compliance trick bears responsibility for his/her weakness, but the instigator of a compliance trick is still doing wrong, in my opinion.

Comment author: HughRistik 25 January 2011 06:47:17AM *  3 points [-]

Replying to your other point:

Most men looking toward PUA are looking for something effective, so I would imagine that what are considered PUA techniques can be both deceptive or untruthful and the opposite because both can be effective(often for different goals and sometimes for the same goal).

Yes, PUAs are looking for something effective, but that doesn't mean that they will use deception. There are two main barriers to deception:

  • It's not as effective as people think for becoming successful with women in general
  • PUAs have consciences and don't all believe that the ends justify the means

While we might initially think that there is benefit to males making substantive lies in dating and sexual success (e.g. lies about career, accomplishments, commitment, romantic interest), there are several significant pitfalls:

  • Even if she doesn't know, you do
  • If she finds out, there will be drama, which can be costly (both emotionally, or because it hurts your status in your social circle if others find out)
  • Lying isn't easy for everyone
  • Lying takes away from building self-esteem and self-confidence, while gaining sexual interest based on the truth about you builds confidence. Even if lying might help you with one woman, it will be an impediment to building self-confidence with women over the long-term which is an important component of sexual success.

Lying is an awesome strategy if you are a massive asshole with a high level of antisocial personality traits. But if you have species-typical levels of empathy, it's not so useful. Some people may stereotype PUAs as being highly antisocial con men, which might make lying a plausible worry. Yet the vast majority of PUAs don't fit that description (though I've met a few). PUAs with prosocial personality traits who attempt lying are probably hurting themselves far more than they are hurting women.

For people with prosocial traits, if they are in a situation where lying would be beneficial, there is a much better way to save the day: self-deception! That way, you get all the benefits of the lie, without the pangs of conscience, and you can defuse drama if the shit hits the fan. I don't think I've ever done this. But if I had, would I know? (Wow, the baby basilisks are really out tonight.)

Comment author: wedrifid 25 January 2011 07:31:54AM 8 points [-]

For people with prosocial traits, if they are in a situation where lying would be beneficial, there is a much better way to save the day: self-deception! That way, you get all the benefits of the lie, without the pangs of conscience, and you can defuse drama if the shit hits the fan. I don't think I've ever done this. But if I had, would I know? (Wow, the baby basilisks are really out tonight.)

The Hanson Basilisk.

On a related note I hold in contempt rules or systems of normative judgement under which an individual becomes penalised for becoming self aware or epistemologically rational. For example, when using an approach explicitly because you know that is how humans work is condemned as 'manipulative' while doing the same thing while lying to yourself about your intent is treated entirely differently.

Comment author: MartinB 25 January 2011 09:08:54AM 1 point [-]

If a PUA technique is deceptive or untruthful then it deprives the person to be seduced from relavent information that could help them make a better decision.

What is your mental model on how people find partners, love, sex and what is your explanation of the data observed in other people - particularly hook-ups without extensive getting-to-know beforehand.

I am not asking in a rhetorical or socratic way, I really want to know. For my own mental model I tracked the development to some degree, and then tried to identify generalizable errors in my thinking, recently I started again to collect those of others.

Comment author: Davorak 25 January 2011 05:18:10PM 1 point [-]

I hesitate to enter into this conversation at this juncture because I do not see how it forwards the current conversation and I do not know why you want to know. Are you looking to compare your own models and improve them, or do you think you see a sign(in what I have written) that there is a flaw in my model that you understand because you once had it as well?

Comment author: lukeprog 24 January 2011 09:32:00PM 2 points [-]

Do you consider Art of Charm's methods to be so manipulative that they fall within the category of "PUA" for you? If no, then that's a strange way to categorize the producers of the most popular PUA podcast. If yes, then I wonder what you mean by "manipulative." Art of Charm's methods are manipulative only in the sense that a woman putting on cute clothes and makeup and acting flirty and trying to be her best self is "manipulative."

Comment author: Davorak 24 January 2011 10:48:00PM 1 point [-]

Do you consider Art of Charm's methods to be so manipulative that they fall within the category of "PUA" for you?

I don't know because I do not know what methods they advocate. The video at Art of Charm does not seem to advocate anything manipulative and seemed like it had a positive message but that is the extent of my knowledge of them.

I was not categorizing anything or anyone. I was stating a definition that I and many other people seem to use regarding PUA a probably cause for it to be "denounced by almost everyone." I was offering an explanation. I then asked for your definition since there are many and yours different and currently unknown to me.

I asked what percentage of PUA techniques are manipulative because I wanted to know weather or not you consider manipulative techniques to be part of PUA material; eventually I would also like to know if you consider them valuable and a net positive, but the former is a large topic by itself and would need to be covered before the later could be discussed coherently.

a woman putting on cute clothes and makeup and acting flirty and trying to be her best self is "manipulative."

"makeup", "cute cloths", "acting flirty" do not manipulation make. Those same things can be used in a deception or manipulation though.

Comment author: shokwave 21 January 2011 02:34:35PM *  3 points [-]

And yet, it is denounced by almost everyone - perhaps because they're only familiar with mechanical, dishonest, The Game-era material? I dunno.

Denunciation is a social act. The social framework is an evolutionary fitness mating arena. Kill the status of anyone more successful than you.

This principle is strong enough for me to treat denunciation of PUA as weak evidence that it works.

Comment author: Oligopsony 21 January 2011 04:28:28PM 3 points [-]

I've seen much more mockery of PUA than denunciation, mostly with the sort of attitude one sees displayed towards, say, furries (who are a prototypically unthreatening group.) But perhaps this depends on the corner of the internet you're from.

Comment author: Jonathan_Graehl 22 January 2011 06:48:25AM 3 points [-]

Mockery is mostly for attack. I'm not sure how the mode of attack matters.

It's true that most people don't seem genuinely disturbed by the existence of furries, though. And it must be true that some people mock PUA without feeling threatened, or even without intending to raise their status or lower PUAers'. And in particular cases, for we do love to laugh at those who overreach (are more confident of their status than we think they can justify).

Comment author: wedrifid 22 January 2011 07:39:49AM 1 point [-]

that some people mock PUA without feeling threatened, or even without intending to raise their status or lower PUAers'.

Mockery of another group without intending to raise one's own status? That only seems possible if we include lack of self awareness in evaluating 'intent'. Isn't that just Human Behavior 101?

Comment author: Jonathan_Graehl 23 January 2011 03:56:13AM 1 point [-]

You're right. I was so struck by that, I almost deleted the clause entirely, instead of weakening it with "intending to".

Comment author: Anatoly_Vorobey 21 January 2011 05:02:40PM 5 points [-]

This is a terrible argument:

  • it affirms the consequent;
  • the assumption that all social activity reduces to fitness strategies is in sharp contrast with reality and lacks evidence;
  • even allowing for the unreasonable assumption and overlooking the fallacy, the problem remains that apart from some anecdotal evidence, nobody has a clue as to whether PUA works, including people who denounce it. The most that could be concluded, even under the manifestly unreasonable assumptions, is that people who denounce PUA believe that it works, or have anecdotal evidence that it works. However, since it's reasonably common for people to both denounce PUA and believe that it's practiced by pathetic unsuccessful creeps, this conclusion is wrong, too.
Comment author: Vladimir_M 21 January 2011 07:29:12PM 7 points [-]

[the above argument] affirms the consequent;

To be fair, the above commenter only said that this constitutes "weak evidence" in favor of the hypothesis, and deducing mere evidence (as opposed to certainty) by affirming the consequent is correct reasoning. (How strong evidence should be deduced, of course, is another question that depends on the concrete case. But "shokwave" did say "weak.")

Comment author: shokwave 22 January 2011 07:45:54AM 2 points [-]

I don't see how it affirms the consequent; could you spell it out logically for me?

My reason for thinking it doesn't is that I didn't give a consequent. I gave three premises, all of which I strongly believe are true, and the consequent derived from these (you can find it in lukeprog's post) is a prediction that pick-up artists will suffer social attacks such as denunciation.

It's an abductive explanation of the state of the world, to be sure, but it depends on many other premises (evolutionary psychology is an accurate description of the world, other hypotheses are unlikely, etc). At some point you risk rejecting arguments for theories of gravity because they look like affirming the consequent; that is, your theory predicted that the object would fall at a certain rate (9.8 m/s, say) and then the object fell at a certain rate (9.81~ m/s). P therefore Q, Q, P.

Comment author: Anatoly_Vorobey 22 January 2011 09:27:50PM 2 points [-]

I don't see how it affirms the consequent; could you spell it out logically for me?

Your P->Q is "if PUA works, people will try to denounce PUA". You affirm Q and deduce P. As I replied to Vladimir_M, this is fallacious unless you invest at least some effort into refuting alternative hypotheses that explain Q. You note it yourself:

(evolutionary psychology is an accurate description of the world, other hypotheses are unlikely, etc)

Now, your astonishingly reductive claim that all social acts are fitness strategies (this claim is not, in fact, part of evolutionary psychology, whose claims are far-ranging but more modest than that) is on the face of it simply wrong; and several other reasons why people might want to denounce PUA are ready at hand. You have your work cut out for you if you wish to give some convincing evidence for the claim, and against the alternative hypotheses; but before either is done at least to some degree your argument, it seems to me, is wholly unsubstantiated.

P.S. And all this doesn't take into account my third objection above, which would be true even if you were able to support deducing P from Q in your case.

P.P.S. Thank you for the phrase "abductive reasoning", I didn't know that name, or that it was well-studied.

Comment author: wedrifid 22 January 2011 06:52:25AM *  2 points [-]

the assumption that all social activity reduces to fitness strategies is in sharp contrast with reality and lacks evidence;

"Lacks evidence" is a handy accusation, isn't it? So is tu quoque.

(I don't believe the accusation of 'lacks evidence' in this context means much more than 'I disapprove of your belief".)

Comment author: Anatoly_Vorobey 22 January 2011 09:43:20PM 4 points [-]

I'd like to think that this accusation also carries a hint that this is quite an extraordinary claim, and therefore requires extraordinary evidence. At least, that's the idea I was trying to get across without spelling it out, so as not to appear uncivil.

It really is quite an extraordinarily strong claim, and I'm still using milder language and not saying what I really think about it. It's much like saying that all social acts are really attempts to sleep with one's parent of the opposite sex, or that all social acts are actually attempts to get control of the means of production.

There are so many social acts, they are so different in different societies, and so many of them are so obviously shaped by culture and non-universal, that I have never seen any evo-psych theorist try to seriously claim that any and all of them are mating fitness strategies. Typically even the most far-reaching varieties of evo-psych claim that about a wide swath of supposedly universal social behaviors, not all social acts.

Comment author: wedrifid 22 January 2011 10:38:01PM *  4 points [-]

I'd like to think that this accusation also carries a hint that this is quite an extraordinary claim, and therefore requires extraordinary evidence.

The hint was overwhelmingly clear. You were saying that your opponent was the one that needed lots of evidence while trying to present your own position as the default.

With respect to this particular premise your claim of 'extraordinary' struck me as incredibly naive. That social behaviours reduce to fitness maximising strategies is trivially obvious (and not all that interesting). There are of course going to be exceptions to the rule, humans being far from completely optimised but this claim:

the assumption that all social activity reduces to fitness strategies is in sharp contrast with reality and lacks evidence

... combined with things like:

the problem remains that apart from some anecdotal evidence, nobody has a clue as to whether PUA works

... suggests to me that the 'reality' you are appealing to is a purely social reality, not one that is determined by interaction with the world. "Nobody has a clue as to whether PUA works"? What the...? Anyone who has lived among humans with a modicum of introspection would have more than a 'clue' that it would work. "Bloody obvious social skills development combined with lots of practice and trial and error' doesn't stop being effective just because it gets a TLA applied.

I'm frankly amazed that your refutation wasn't downvoted to oblivion. It completely misuses the fallacy of 'affirming the consequent' and implies a lack of understanding of how Bayesian reasoning works.

Note that I don't even agree with shockwave's claim as he specifies it. Your reply is just completely confused and made all the worse by opening with 'This is a terrible argument'. When you lead with that sort of denunciation (and presumption) the bar gets raised and you really need to follow up with particularly solid reasoning.

Comment author: Anatoly_Vorobey 22 January 2011 11:42:09PM 1 point [-]

You were saying that your opponent was the one that needed lots of evidence while trying to present your own position as the default.

No, I didn't offer any position on how much of human social behavior is fitness strategy and thus didn't present anything as the default. I pointed out, correctly, that the claim that all social acts are fitness strategies is an extraordinarily strong claim.

There are of course going to be exceptions to the rule

Since my opponent's argument explicitly deduced that PUA-denunciation is a fitness strategy directly from its being a social act, and nothing else, it brooks no exceptions to the rule. If the rule is not universal, the argument falls through.

"Nobody has a clue as to whether PUA works"? What the...?

It'd be interesting to see a reference to a study, a survey, anything other than anecdotal evidence. Something like this, for example.

"Bloody obvious social skills development combined with lots of practice and trial and error"

Oh, I see. Well, you're welcome to your definition of PUA, I'm not interested in debating it. If you have any data, do share.

Comment author: jimrandomh 23 January 2011 12:39:26AM 9 points [-]

Since my opponent's argument...

Be very wary when you start thinking of a participant in a conversation as an "opponent". Discussions are not battles, and the goal is not to win; it is to acquire correct beliefs. And/or to make yourself look good. But if you think of it as a battle, you are more likely to reject true some true statements that seem like evidence against your beliefs, and to accept false ones that seem like evidence for them. The consequences of that may be farther reaching than just the conversation they came up in.

Comment author: HughRistik 23 January 2011 06:08:48AM 4 points [-]

It'd be interesting to see a reference to a study, a survey, anything other than anecdotal evidence.

I've been emailing a few researchers a year trying to develop some interest in studies of the effectiveness of pickup. Unfortunately, until science gets off its ass, we can't get that particular proof.

Until that time, however, I don't think it's correct to say that "nobody has a clue" as to whether pickup works. While wedrifid is being a bit prickly, I think he's basically correct. It's a bit strange that on the subject of pickup, the burden of proof suddenly rises, and people suddenly throw out types of evidence that they normally find valuable.

There isn't scientific evidence for the effectiveness of many teachings, yet these teaching are widely regarded as effective. I doubt that your cooking behavior is informed by the ground-breaking study "The Effect of Hot Stoves on Fingers." There isn't scientific evidence that, say... waltz lessons are effective, either. Yet I bet that if you wanted to learn to waltz, you would go around the corner to a dance studio. If you doubt the instructors, you may be able to watch them do demos or performances, or see video footage.

We have evidence of a similar sort for the effectiveness of pickup.

Comment author: wedrifid 23 January 2011 12:08:17AM *  0 points [-]

Since my opponent's argument explicitly deduced that PUA-denunciation is a fitness strategy directly from its being a social act, and nothing else, it brooks no exceptions to the rule. If the rule is not universal, the argument falls through.

This claim is false. You do not understand how correct reasoning works.

It'd be interesting to see a reference to a study, a survey

So would I. This does not make your claim that "Nobody has a clue as to whether PUA works" a sane claim to make. You do not understand how evidence works and are also conflating the claim "there have not been scientific studies about" with "nobody has a clue about".

Oh, I see. Well, you're welcome to your definition of PUA, I'm not interested in debating it. If you have any data, do share.

Was not a definition. It was a reference to several commonly included aspects of the behaviour and declared strategies of actual real world communities. Not something you can use the 'dismiss as semantics' tactic on.

Comment author: MartinB 22 January 2011 02:39:52PM 0 points [-]

nobody has a clue as to whether PUA works

I think that is a mistake. There are at least 10.000s of people who ran through all kinds of programs or self studied. Some report and increased success rate, some do not. Some do worse. How is that just mere anecdotal evidence?

You may not get the specific evidence you ask for. But you get some.

Comment author: MartinB 22 January 2011 02:41:41PM 2 points [-]

Oh I should add, that it does not mean that the people who achieve success know how they do it. Just that.

I noticed how in many cases successful people not only have a hard time explaining how the are successful, but honestly have a mistaken view about it. Unconscious competence.

Comment author: Anatoly_Vorobey 22 January 2011 09:04:54PM *  5 points [-]

How is that not anecdotal evidence? You don't have any clear data. First of all, you don't have any aggregate statistics on those 10.000s of people - you can only ask a few for their personal opinions. Any self-reporting will be naturally biased towards success. Any information put out by a program will be naturally biased towards success. And you have absolutely no idea how many people studied PUA, tried it, didn't work for them, went on to try something else. You have no data to work with.

Just think about diets. Every time you think you may have good evidence about PUA working or not working, think about diets. Many millions of people try them every year. You have mountains of people swearing by this diet or the other. Dozens of studies and research programs are being run all the time (and they dutifully report that almost all the fans of this diet or the other gain their weight back). And they still have no clue if low-carbs is better than low-calories, or maybe they're both good, or maybe one is better for some people and the other for the others, or whatever. Or maybe they have too many clues all going in the different directions. Do diets work?

Comment author: MartinB 23 January 2011 06:25:04PM 4 points [-]

And you have absolutely no idea how many people studied PUA, tried it, didn't work for them, went on to try something else. You have no data to work with

And you have absolutely no idea how many people studied math, tried it, didn't work for them, went on to try something else. You have no data to work with.

The usefulness of math is not measured by the amount of people who learn it, or the amount of people who fail to grasp its usefulness, but by the results that those who master it get.

It is not that interesting how many people try it and fail, but if it works, when done right.

I find statistical exploration of social issues rather hard. But that might just be my own ignorance on the tool set real scientists have.

But I see that someone who is sucessfull in one area might not be able to actually explain how he does it. He might have mistaken models, or ignore important factors he is not aware of. But at least he shows something is there.

Comment deleted 23 January 2011 07:41:11PM [-]
Comment author: HughRistik 24 January 2011 08:00:55AM *  13 points [-]

Here is my best attempt to catalog the success rate of the guys with pickup background I've known in real life. Of course, in some cases I have imperfect information and don't know how they are doing, in which case I will guess, and my guess will be conservative (e.g. I will assume that they are the same way I last saw them, rather than improving since then). This sample isn't representative at all, so take it with it a grain of salt, but it will help other people understand some of my priors about the success of pickup.

  • Me: Started out with social anxiety disorder. 6 months: substantial social skills improvement. 8 months: lost virginity. Next few years: Stuck on a plateau of getting numbers and kisses, but social skills slowly improving. Since then: going in and out of flings and relationships; currently in a relationship. I could give several other success metrics, but it would sound like I'm bragging.

  • 4 other guys: Began with severe social deficits. Now they have no problem dating and go in and out of flings and relationships. One of them started out as 300 lbs and massively insecure, but lost weight, applied himself, and is now massively popular with women, to the point of sometimes refusing sex because he is looking for relationships.

  • 1: Had one relationship before pickup and was struggling after. Hooked up with several women for a year, met one he liked, dated her for a couple years, and married her.

  • 1: Started out with severe social problems and alienation, along with depression. Lost his virginity, but then struggled for multiple years without a single date. However, in the last year, he greatly improved his fashion sense and started going out multiple times a week. He is now quite socially popular, and several women in our social circle are really into him, though he isn't attracted to them. Women come up to him in clubs and compliment him. He went out with this one girl who was really into him, but he wasn't interested in a relationship, so he ended things and they are just friends. He recently had a fling with a girl who was in town.

  • 1: I give him a brush of pickup knowledge around the same time he was getting into kink subculture. Butch dominant women started looking at him like a piece of tasty meat, and were lining up to beat him. He said that the pickup stuff helped him keep up conversations when women approached him, even though he was still having trouble approaching. He is in a relationship now.

  • 1: He had pickup background improve his fashion sense and social skills, but he still has difficulties interacting with women. He is mega-cool around guys, but still feels very awkward talking to women he is interested in. He says that pickup is part of what caused the awkwardness (inverse of the previous guy). He isn't really applying himself to pickup nowadays, and working on his career.

  • 1: Similar story, except he managed to end up in a long-term relationship, which is now over.

  • 1: Similar story, except he isn't awkward around women, and gets phone numbers. He is very socially popular, but still has difficulties expressing sexuality with women.

  • 4: Guys with some exposure to pickup, mostly through me. They are still struggling and having minimal success, as far as I know. Their difficulties are easily explained within the pickup paradigm, such as fashion issues, posture (the classic computer slouch), and women reading them as extremely "nerdy" and/or emotionally inexpressive. One of them may have Asperger's syndrome. Some of these guys have gone on some online dates. These guys all have < 1 year experience with pickup.

Here are some interesting results, out of these 15 guys:

  • 5 (33%): Massive sexual success
  • 7 (47%): At least one relationship
  • 5 (33%): Still significant lack of success at sexual contact or dates
  • 6 (40%): Still lack of consistent success at sexual contact or dates currently, but has had some success in those areas after studying pickup
  • 2 (13%): Lack of consistent success, even though they have at least average fashion sense and social skills
  • 15 (100%): Minor social skills improvement
  • 11 (73%): Major social skills improvement
  • 1 (7%): Married

The main variables that appear to correlate with success (order of causation unclear):

  • Fashion sense, particularly non-nerdy presentation. I doubt this variable fully explains success, but it may gate improvement in other areas.
  • Social skills and self-confidence
  • Years of experience (all of the highly successful guys have multiple years of experience, and some had plateaus where they struggled)

For a sample of almost all nerdy guys with social deficits, this distribution of outcomes is probably pretty impressive, relative to the alternative (it's quite possible that by now, I would have been on a couple dates with a few women and still be a virgin). Only one guy reports pickup exacerbating his struggles.

My limited empirical evidence does suggest that success with women as a function of attractiveness is a step function. There can be periods of rapid improvement, and plateaus of little progress. There is very much a feeling of "leveling up" as things come together.

For instance, whenever I've seen a guy hit both above average fashion sense, and above average social skills, the attention he gets from women suddenly jumps. It's as if female attention is a multiplicative factor of different components of attraction.

The plateaus can be tough, especially if you start out on one. However, improvements in social skills during those times can keep you motivated.

Comment author: rastilin 24 January 2011 06:29:33AM 3 points [-]

You might be interested to know that Style says roughly one out of twenty people who start to learn PUA reach a high level of skill.

I personally agree with Martin however; especially in relation to diets. Diets DO work, they are just difficult to implement, changing your lifestyle often is; that applies to exercise, studying a new language or anything that requires a large time investment before you see payoffs. The math comparison is especially appropriate. In this way PUA is no different from any other self improvement course that you might decide to undertake.

Comment author: PhilGoetz 29 January 2011 06:22:55AM *  1 point [-]

The usefulness of math is not measured by the amount of people who learn it, or the amount of people who fail to grasp its usefulness, but by the results that those who master it get.

Where "those who master it" is defined by "the intersection of people who tried it, and people who get good results".

Anatoly's observations are spot on, whereas MartinB's ignore the problems with self-selection bias, and could also be used as a defense of psychotherapy, ouija boards, and picking lottery numbers from fortune cookies.

More importantly, we don't even have evidence that pickup artist techniques work for anyone! All we have are testimonials from people highly-incentivized to make them. Is there any factual evidence that David DeAngelo, Neil Strauss, or any of these PUAs actually have slept with many beautiful women?

It would be hard to provide such evidence - but that doesn't mean we can just trust them.

Comment author: Davidmanheim 21 January 2011 04:04:41PM 1 point [-]

I have to disagree with the principle, even if the conclusion is correct. I could argue similarly that atheists denounce god because it's a successful paradigm, and therefore threatening, and so it must be true.

Comment author: shokwave 21 January 2011 04:10:07PM *  1 point [-]

God paradigms are not related to evolutionary fitness the way pick-up artistry is. Atheists do not denounce God because it is a successful paradigm (they denounce it because it's wrong, its popularity or success only determines the scale or intensity of denouncement). "And so it must be true" is not a correct paraphrase of "weak evidence that it works".

You could argue it. You couldn't win the argument.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 21 January 2011 04:50:53PM 6 points [-]

I have to side with davidmanheim here.

You asserted your prior belief that denunciation is a social act of reducing the status of things viewed as more successful, and therefore concluded that people's denunciation of PUA is "weak evidence" that it works.

As I can tell the implicit reasoning goes "People denounce things they see as successful; people denounce X; therefore people probably see X as successful; things people see as successful probably work; therefore X probably works."

The same line of reasoning can apply to any X that people denounce. Davidmanheim applied it to religion, which is denounced by atheists.

Your reply was that religion is different, because religion also belongs to the class of wrong beliefs. But that doesn't mean your earlier argument doesn't apply, it merely means that other arguments apply as well. If your argument is evidence for PUA, it's evidence for any denounced X.

As you said initially, it's weak evidence. I agree. In fact, I'd say it's negligible evidence, in both cases.

Comment author: shokwave 22 January 2011 07:19:40AM 1 point [-]

"People denounce things they see as successful"

This was not part of my reasoning. It was specifically an evo-psych-style argument; people denounce things they see as increasing the evolutionary fitness of an opponent. The principle in question is Kill the status of anyone more successful than you, which is also why creationists trying to make science look bad (instead of finding evidence for their beliefs) is weak evidence that science more successful at explaining the world, and in full generality it is the principle behind ad hominem attacks.

Comment author: waveman 08 October 2012 03:44:14AM *  1 point [-]

I think there are probably three: PUA (pick up techniques), salesmanship, and possible some religious mind mind training techniques (Buddhist Logic by TH. Stcherbatsky).

PUA has a bad press because people tend to automatically equate it with misogyny. Like many forms of knowledge, you can employ it in various ways. There is a whole sub-genre called "married man game" (e.g. The Married Man Sex Life Primer 2011, by Athol Kay) devoted to helping married men and other men in relationships to apply these insights so their relationships are happier and more stable. The PUA community had broadened its scope in recent years into more general self-improvement techniques, and moved past the earlier narrow focus on hacking the female brain.

Another field where results are important and feedback is rapid and unambiguous is sales. This also crosses into the field of self management, given the psychologically challenging nature of sales. One example of the collected wisdom, admittedly without a scientific study in sight, is Tom Hopkins "How to master the art of selling" and with a broader focus "The official guide to success".

The PUA and Sales focus on what works, with no consideration for ideological sensitivities, tends to infuriate some people. Particularly because many of the things they say are true. People buy things, and pick mates, based on some quite basic and surprising heuristics.

Comment author: R3dpill 24 January 2011 08:43:10PM 0 points [-]

You Speak much truth.

It is really a gross failure if LW that we do not allow the elephant to be discussed. No matter how evil one thinks it is, surely it is worth analyzing thoroughly just as an example of successful instrumental rationality.

Comment author: Vladimir_M 25 January 2011 02:58:39AM *  2 points [-]

I find this topic fascinating not only because of its practical utility, but also because it presents a dissection of complex human social interactions in a way that's uniquely suitable for study and reaching genuine and reliable insight. Nothing even remotely like that, to my knowledge, has ever come out of any other attempt to study human social behavior.

Alas, the dissection analogy can be extended to people's reactions to it. Just like the prevailing religious opinion in ancient times was appalled at the idea of desecrating dead bodies even for the good of science, so the modern respectable opinion, even in venues like LW, is appalled at the idea that these aspects of human life -- which are in our society treated with an extreme level of both idealization and ideologization -- can be analyzed in such an undignified and desecrating but nevertheless correct way.

Comment author: [deleted] 25 January 2011 05:02:53PM 14 points [-]

so the modern respectable opinion, even in venues like LW, is appalled at the idea that these aspects of human life -- which are in our society treated with an extreme level of both idealization and ideologization -- can be analyzed in such an undignified and desecrating but nevertheless correct way.

This idea -- that everyone skeptical of PUA is simply too prudish to handle the truth -- sounds like a self-flattering way to avoid engaging with critics on a substantive level. I haven't seen a single comment here that can be accurately described as "appalled at the idea that these aspects of human life...can be analyzed." By contrast, many of the comments that raise some criticism of PUA, or simply register skepticism, start by ceding that skeptic can see helpful or useful aspects to the techniques.

However, PUA is not settled science, and the idea that the simplified evopsych theories behind PUA represent incontrovertible and unassailable truth -- that's a statement of faith, not reason.

Comment author: Vladimir_M 25 January 2011 11:59:06PM *  -3 points [-]

I think "prudish" is a completely wrong characterization of the problem here. The idea that this aspect of human life is surrounded by some sacred mystery and that it works (or could or should work) according to some idealized principles, as well as the tendency to instantly sniff out and be struck by the ideological implications (intended or not) of people's expressed opinions about it, are not at all limited to people who could be described as "prudish" in any meaningful way.

Now, of course that such biases will usually not manifest themselves in a transparent way, especially not in a place like this. Rather, they take the form of biased treatment of evidence, judging people's attitudes and behavior with unusual and inconsistent ethical standards, turning up one's sensitivity to offense, etc., etc. For a lot of evidence of these phenomena, see the numerous discussions in which the commenter HughRistik, who has a particular interest and expertise in this area, has had to deal with them. (He writes with great clarity and invariably treats his interlocutors with saintly patience and kindness, and these biases are thus especially apparent in his discussions.)

Also, regarding the folk evo-psych theories often heard in this context, I agree that they are more often than not just idle speculation; in fact, I don't have very high opinion even about much of the academic evolutionary psychology. I am much more interested in first establishing an accurate phenomenological view of things before moving on to any such speculation.

Comment author: R3dpill 25 January 2011 02:21:06PM -1 points [-]

"even venues like LW are appalled at the idea that these aspects of human life -- which are in our society treated with an extreme level of both idealization and ideologization -- can be analyzed in such an undignified and desecrating but nevertheless correct way."

which begs the question: what is LW for if not for being rational and confronting the truth?

Comment author: Oligopsony 25 January 2011 05:00:05PM 1 point [-]

modern respectable opinion, even in venues like LW, is appalled at the idea that these aspects of human life -- which are in our society treated with an extreme level of both idealization and ideologization -- can be analyzed in such an undignified and desecrating but nevertheless correct way.

Actually, I think the question-begging turn here is in "correct." Perhaps the referenced ways of dissecting human relations are correct and perhaps they are not, but it does not seem to be the case that what the author refers to as "modern respectable opinon" (whether justly or unjustly) consider it to be so. Thus it does not seem that they are, in fact, appalled that "these aspects... can be analyzed in such an undignified and desecrating but nevertheless correct way."

Comment author: wedrifid 21 January 2011 12:53:07AM 4 points [-]

Given that The 4-Hour Work Week can be boiled down to more or less:

Productivity

Unfortunately, there have been fewer experimental studies on effective productivity and time management methods than there have been on effective study methods. For an overview of scientific opinion on productivity, I recommend pages 121-126 of Psychology Applied to Modern Life. According to those pages, common advice from professionals includes:

  1. Doing the right tasks is more important than doing your tasks efficiently. In fact, too much concern for efficiency is a leading cause of procrastination. Say "no" more often, and use your time for tasks that really matter.
  2. Delegate responsibility as often as possible. Throw away unimportant tasks and items.
  3. Keep a record of your time use. (Quantified Self can help.)
  4. Write down your goals. Break them down into smaller goals, and break these into manageable tasks. Schedule these tasks into your calendar.
  5. Process notes and emails only once. Tackle one task at a time, and group similar tasks together.
  6. Make use of your downtime (plane rides, bus rides, doctor's office waitings). > These days, many of your tasks can be completed on your smartphone.

Combined with some awareness of:

Happiness

Factors that don't correlate much with happiness include: age,3 gender,4 parenthood,5 intelligence,6 physical attractiveness,7 and money8 (as long as you're above the poverty line). Factors that correlate moderately with happiness include: health,9 social activity,10 and religiosity.11 Factors that correlate strongly with happiness include: genetics,12 love and relationship satisfaction,13 and work satisfaction.14

... it is probably worth throwing Tim Ferris's book in there somewhere too.

Comment author: lukeprog 21 January 2011 12:56:05AM 2 points [-]

Back in 2007, I was pretty critical of Tim's book. But I don't know whether I would agree with lukeprog2007 if I read that book again today.

Comment author: wedrifid 21 January 2011 12:59:02AM *  2 points [-]

The similarity of Tim's conclusions to yours can not be ignored.

Comment author: MBlume 28 January 2011 10:55:57PM *  2 points [-]

Factors that don't correlate much with happiness include: [...] physical attractiveness, inteligence, [...] Factors that correlate strongly with happiness include: [...] love and relationship satisfaction, and work satisfaction.

blinks I would have expected physical attractiveness and intelligence to hugely impact love/relationship satisfaction and work satisfaction, respectively, and from there to happiness -- do the first links not seem to exist?

ETA: Or do they simply mean "holding these other things that correlate more closely with happiness fixed, intelligence and attractiveness don't seem to correlate with happiness," because that I'd buy, but that does not imply, as the original seems to, that attractiveness and intelligence are not good intervention points for increasing happiness.

Comment author: datadataeverywhere 29 January 2011 12:18:52AM *  3 points [-]

I took a course in positive psychology, and this was a significant line of discussion; the links you expect, surprising as they are to almost everyone, do not seem to exist.

Regarding relationships, people of higher perceived value (more beautiful, wealthy, intelligent) are more likely to perceive their significant others as less than equal in these regards, and more often feel like they could do better. Wealthy/beautiful pairs are reasonably common, and in these pairs it is not unusual for both parties to feel like they could do better.

Regarding work satisfaction, intelligence does correlate with performance, and performance with satisfaction, but both are limited correlations, and not necessarily positive. In particular, above an IQ of (IIRC) 115, the correlation plateaus, and eventually becomes negative (locally; IQ 155 is still positively correlated with performance compared to IQ 100, but not compared to IQ 115). These studies have an unfortunate habit of using linear regressions, but the overall picture is that an IQ of about 115 is ideal for happiness, and movement in either direction tends to decrease happiness.

ETA: These are rationales created after the fact to explain various research findings, and to my knowledge, while widely accepted as the causes and individually true, haven't been shown to be the actual cause of the lack of correlations.

ETA2: My hypothesis about IQ versus happiness is that 1 standard deviation above the mean, people are happy that they are smarter than most other people; much more than that, and they start to feel alienated, because they no longer think like other people. I think this is related to The Level Above Mine. If this hypothesis is true, people with an IQ of 130 should be the happiest when raised and kept in a group of people with a mean IQ of 115 and a normal standard deviation.

Edit to remove: "I do not expect this to hold for very high IQ's, since we also know that above 145 IQ starts to be highly correlated with mental disease and personality disorders." See comment below.

Comment author: Perplexed 29 January 2011 12:57:50AM 5 points [-]

we also know that above 145 IQ starts to be highly correlated with mental disease and personality disorders.

Do you have a citation for that? I tried Googling, but the results of that search strongly suggest that the claimed correlation is a myth (an urban legend?).

Comment author: datadataeverywhere 29 January 2011 01:14:55AM 3 points [-]

Good catch. Apparently "IQ ∝mental illness" is a thought I need to uncache. I just scanned the abstracts of a dozen or so highly-cited papers on the subjects, and it seems that while not overwhelming, the evidence weakly supports a negative correlation wtih mental illness.

I also just came up with a list of the 20 most intelligent people I can think of, living or dead (mostly dead). Not a majority, but a very disproportionate majority of that list suffered serious mental illnesses. Perhaps there is a correlation for very high IQ (almost impossible to statistically measure), or more likely, there is a confounding variable (fame, perhaps?).

Comment author: nickernst 26 January 2011 04:59:12PM 2 points [-]

lukeprog, thanks so much for this post. Last week I made the decision to actually read a self-help book or two on productivity, and on scholarship. I realized that I wasn't sure where to start, and how much sifting I would have to do - a discouraging thought. Then I got home and scanned the usual blogs, and on LW this was the newest post. Serendipity!

Comment author: SRStarin 24 January 2011 02:40:07AM *  2 points [-]

Such a fantastic piece!

But this is really wrong: "# Make use of your downtime (plane rides, bus rides, doctor's office waitings). These days, many of your tasks can be completed on your smartphone."

No, downtime is your chance to be a human being, interacting with other humans. On the plane? Watch a movie. Talk to your neighbor, if they appear to want that. It totally gets you into the frame of mind necessary to interface with whomever* you're traveling to meet with. It also relaxes you. Do not do any work on a plane if you can avoid it. You will be unexpectedly productive for it. I have tried working on a plane, and I get little done, but felt upset at myself for the failure. Now, I play games, watch movies, and think a little about what meetings are coming. I find myself so much more ready for them.

*I am an introvert, but not a strong one.

Comment author: Alicorn 24 January 2011 02:49:55AM 15 points [-]

I believe that this works for you, but it sounds idiosyncratic in the extreme. Language like "be a human being" is unnecessarily judgmental towards people who do not share your preferences/dispositions/idiosyncrasies. I'm human when I have my laptop on and six windows of tasks open, too.

Comment author: SRStarin 24 January 2011 11:27:55PM 4 points [-]

Fair enough, and I apologize for the seeming judging. I'm actually fairly non-judgmental, and yet for some reason often find myself embarrassed at others thinking I'm judging them, when I'm talking about myself. So, mea culpa - I did say that was "wrong," when what I meant was that it was very wrong for me. If advice is wrong for me, I tend to think of it as wrong in the general, logical sense. (Claim: All A should do B. Fact: This member of A should not do B. Conclusion: NOT(All A should do B) )

But, I do think that there is the potential to lose a lot of chances for personal growth if we merely immerse ourselves in our online-lives when surrounded physically by others. For example, I did jury duty today (I wasn't selected), and I was impressed by how the waiting room of 400+ strangers got along so well together, often laughing together at the ups and downs of the day. Airplanes and movie theaters can be like that, too. When people spontaneously interact with and appreciate one another, and I'm part of that, it makes me feel very good about being a live human being.

So, back to my idiosyncracies in the presence of strangers: Your use of that word appears to be a claim that the vast majority of people do not behave or think like I do, but in my experience, quite a lot of people on buses, planes, in jury duty, etc., behave quite a lot like I do. If they didn't, I would have fewer interesting conversations on planes, fewer laughs with strangers, fewer experiences where I go in dreading being in a large crowd of strangers and come out feeling really gosh darn good about being alive.

So, I guess I cop to everything you say except that I'm idiosyncratic in my behavior.

Though if you say I am idiosyncratic in my verbosity, I'd have to give you that one, too.

Comment author: BenPS 28 January 2011 08:02:56AM 1 point [-]

There really isn’t very much directly done on procrastination

Hmmm.

Comment author: army1987 25 September 2011 09:49:02AM 1 point [-]

Just ordered a copy of Psychology Applied to Modern Life on amazon.co.uk for £3.23 (plus £4.02 shipping).

Gotta love this phenomenon, at least when the product of the multipliers is less than 1. :-)

Comment author: Nikki_Olson 21 January 2011 10:50:56PM *  1 point [-]

"As Christopher Buckley (1999) writes, "The more people read [self-help books], the more they think they need them... [it's] more like an addiction than an alliance.""

'Addiction' strikes me as the wrong way of characterizing the relation.

Comment author: Elo 17 April 2014 10:50:19PM 0 points [-]

Factors that don't correlate much with happiness include: age,3 gender,4 parenthood,5 intelligence,6 physical >attractiveness,7 and money8 (as long as you're above the poverty line). Factors that correlate moderately with happiness >include: health,9 social activity,10 and religiosity.11 Factors that correlate strongly with happiness include: genetics,12 >love >and relationship satisfaction,13 and work satisfaction.14

Factors not within a human's control: age, gender, intelligence, money. genetics.

Factors that are within a human's control: parenthood, health, social activity, religiosity relationship satisfaction, work satisfaction.

factors that are sort of within human control: Parenthood Physical attractiveness Love

By this thinking - a lot of what creates happiness is within our control (or probable control).

Comment author: brazil84 23 October 2013 09:21:52AM 0 points [-]

Here's a thought experiment:

Suppose somebody actually figures out an excellent way to help oneself, e.g. to stop smoking; lose weight; be more productive; etc. And suppose they wrote a book which presented their strategy in a clear coherent way.

One can ask if the book would actually help anyone. Or to put the question another way, would people benefit from reading the book?

I'm pretty confident that the answer is "generally speaking, no." There seems to be a meta-self-help problem, which is that people are very resistant to that kind of learning.

I would hypothesize that that there are different aspects to one's personality. Among other things, we all have a "Mr. Fat Slob" who is perfectly happy to smoke cigarettes and stuff his face and procrastinate and doesn't care about the consequences. We also have a "Mr. Know-It-All" who doesn't want to do anything which might be an admission that he's been screwing up or that he doesn't know what he's doing. Since those aspects of the personality have a big influence over our thoughts and actions, it's very difficult to benefit from a self-help book. Much of the human brain doesn't actually want to change since it might interrupt the flow of nachos. And much of the brain doesn't want to change because that would mean that it had made a mistake.

Of course if you solve the meta-self-help problem, then you arguably don't need self-help books in the first place.