Mental Models - Signaling 👀
Signaling theory describes the body of work on non verbal communication between individuals. It’s why a peacock shakes his tail and why your friend wears that real (or fake) Rolex.
What is Signaling?
In this context, signaling is when something about you affects how others perceive you.
We are all constantly broadcasting a tonne of information about our personality, beliefs, and lifestyle via what we wear, what we do, what we share online and so on. Some of it is done intentionally, some unintentionally.
I like how Farnam St blog puts it:
We are constantly signaling. Every minute of the day, we send signals to others to convey that we are intelligent, successful, attractive, healthy, well-adjusted people with impeccable taste … instead of telling others who we are and how great we are, we use signals. …
Signaling is the area where you live and the car you drive. It’s how you take your coffee… it’s the shoes you wear, the newspapers you read, how you spend your Friday nights.
Why is this interesting?
There are lots of things us humans try to signal, and we might not even be aware of it. Here are a couple of types of signaling:
How we present ourselves visually. How you dress and groom yourself causes other people to make judgements about you. You might not like it, but it is how our brains work. We might try to signal wealth through an expensive watch or handbag. Or we might countersignal that we don’t care (or don’t need to care) about status by wearing an old hoodie.
What we communicate about is signaling. How you communicate about social issues (virtue signaling) is another type of signaling that is easy to recognize:
As a quick stroll on social media reveals, most people love showing that they are good. Whether by expressing compassion for disaster victims, sharing a post to support a social movement, or denouncing a celebrity’s racist comment, many people are eager to broadcast their high moral standing.
Want to go deeper?
🔖 Rory Sutherland's full post on signaling made me chuckle
🔬 This study had some interesting findings on the impact of how you dress
💎 This reminded me a bit of a concept I love: idiosyncracy credits. It’s defined as:
[The} accumulation of positively disposed impressions residing in the perceptions of relevant others; it is… the degree to which an individual may deviate from the common expectancies of the group.
💙 RIP Charlie Munger. Revisit his great speech The Psychology of Human Misjudgment
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