Brushes With Celebrity
Robin Hanson describes research about how a quick glad-handing by a CEO-figure makes people act boldly - with more presumed status:
“Illusory Power Transference” is the academic name for feeling powerful due to a superficial connection to a powerful person, such as having once been in the same room
Otherwise puzzling behavior can be explained by strong evolved desires to affiliate with high status (i.e., impressive or powerful) people. Apparently even very weak affiliations can make big differences. This can help explain our preferring live art and sport events, and our uncritical relations to academics, real estate agents, investment advisors, doctors, lawyers, etc.
People often act as though everyone knows about every social interaction they have:
1. after recycling, or being told to buy a ‘green’ product, people feel sufficiently virtuous that they’ll more likely turn down a panhandler later, effectively believing that their virtuous acts are generally known.
2. after being turned down by one woman, a man will feel less confident approaching the next, even in a different venue.
In a small tribe, it would make sense to expect every interaction to eventually count (via reputation) with everyone. But celebrity is asymmetric. It’s a millions to one (or for a CEO, thousands to one) relationship. There’s little chance that the politician’s handshake and warm words can be relied upon for anything.
I think that the confidence (or lack of it) that carries over between independent encounters (without any small-town-gossip connection) still has power. When someone acts as though they’ll be respected, they more often are. Most people can’t fake this expectation. So, in a way, the information that George got a smile from the CEO does spread, dilutely.
If you’re rational about it, you’ll make sure your high-status affiliations are actually known. Good luck not sounding like a self-promoting name-dropper, though - and there’s nothing we despise more than obvious over-reaching status-gamers.