Re: Egotism

From: Tonie Putter (
Date: Sat 17 Jun 2006 - 09:41:15 GMT

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    The article on ego is fine as far as it goes, but it leaves out many of the beneficial consequences of some people engaging in "costly entrapment in losing endeavours." It does so because it blurs as the 20th century was wont to do the difference between egoism and ego*t*ism.

    Late in the 19th century Ignaz Semmelweis, a doctor in the Maternity Department of the Vienna Lying-in Hospital, got himself trapped in a 'losing endeavour' that contributed to him losing his life when he eventually died in a 'lunatic' asylum.

    It was the egotism of his colleagues, who, against all reason and in rigid denial of a huge body of empirical evidence, rejected Semmelweis' demonstration that when doctors washed their hands between delivering babies and inspecting cadavers in the morgue, the lives of countless mothers would be saved. Thus Gogle returns him as: "...the unhappy hero of birthing mothers." (See also:

    There are heroes and villains and both get trapped in losing endeavours. It is appropriate that psychologists should study aberrant egotism, but let philosophy celebrate egoistic idealism: enlightened reason has always, in the context of its own times, been a 'losing endeavour'.

    How many good ideas would have survived had it not been for the dogged persistence of those who believed in them against all odds?

    Next month when I am in Rome, I will visit Campo di Fiori, where Giordano Bruno was burnt as a heretic, to say thanks for people who stand up for losing endeavours no matter what.

    Tonie Putter

    > From: Dace <>
    > Reply-To: <>
    > Date: Fri, 16 Jun 2006 10:10:24 -0700
    > To: <>
    > Subject: Egotism
    > This article from the World Science website accounts for a lot of posts
    > we've had on this list over the years.
    > --ted
    > Ego traps us in costly, losing battles, study finds
    > June 15, 2006
    > Special to World Science
    > A gambler plunges deeper into debt when crushing losses should scream to him
    > to quit. A banker keeps lending to someone who clearly won't pay back. A
    > leader pours troops and money into a war that has become a quagmire.
    > These scenarios have something in common: in each, someone is entangled in a
    > costly, protracted and losing venture. It happens quite often.
    > Now, researchers say they may have confirmed a key reason why people fall
    > into what the scientists call "costly entrapment in losing endeavors."
    > Their finding, based on a study of monetary choices, might be unsurprising
    > to many observers of human nature: it comes down to ego.
    > Threatened egotism, in particular, "makes people more prone to become
    > entrapped in losing endeavors," two psychologists wrote in the study,
    > published in the July issue of the research journal Personality and Social
    > Psychology Bulletin.
    > Egotism, they wrote, is "the motivation to maintain and enhance favorable
    > views of self." Admitting an unwise decision threatens such views, they
    > added. To avoid that, people slog ahead with failed courses of action
    > despite mounting losses.
    > The study consisted of four experiments on college students. In each, the
    > participants received some cash, and an opportunity to gamble or play it in
    > games of skill or luck. These games were mostly losing propositions, by
    > design.
    > Some of the players were also subjected to vague put-downs, or "ego
    > threats." These students, the researchers found, were likelier to plunge
    > more and more money into the game, and lose it. "Individuals commit more to
    > a losing course of action when their ego involvement is higher," the
    > researchers wrote: for these hapless players, personal affronts transformed
    > the games into ego battles.
    > Since the experiments involved financial choices, it's unclear whether the
    > findings apply to other human behaviors, such as war, one of the
    > psychologists said. But "in principle, absolutely" they could, added the
    > researcher, Roy Baumeister of Florida State University in Tallahassee, Fla.
    > Asked whether they could even be applied to assess a specific conflict-such
    > as the Iraq war, called a "quagmire" in the current issue of Foreign Affairs
    > magazine-Baumeister declined to step into that inflamed debate.
    > "I don't think I should" try to evaluate that, he wrote. "But someone else
    > could!"
    > "Military decision making has a long history of error, bias, and immense
    > cost," he wrote elsewhere in the message. "It is a sort of hobby-interest of
    > mine."
    > In their paper, Baumeister and co-author Liqing Zhang of Carnegie Mellon
    > University in Pittsburgh, Penn., suggested other applications of the
    > findings, in economics and political science. Economists intent on
    > forecasting economies traditionally assume, for simplicity, that people act
    > strictly rationally. But recent research suggests that can be an
    > oversimplification.
    > For instance, new bank managers are more likely to pull back on problem
    > loans than their predecessors-whose egos are often at stake because they
    > approved the loan, Baumeister and Zhang wrote.
    > The students' choices similarly suggest "rationality can be at least
    > somewhat subverted by messy subjective factors, such as egotism," they
    > added.
    > In one game, students were given $5 to optionally gamble in a drawn-out luck
    > game. Some of them also received what was presented as some friendly,
    > pre-game advice from an experimenter: they might want to back out, they were
    > told, if they were the type who "chokes under pressure."
    > Although the experimenter didn't actually say the player was this type of
    > person, those who received the tip played and lost more money, the
    > psychologists found.
    > A second game was a difficult jigsaw puzzle with an unreasonable time limit.
    > Players could buy extra pieces as time passed, if they thought this might
    > help.
    > A third game was to bid competitively to buy one dollar, on condition that
    > both bidders would lose whatever they bid whether they won or lost. This
    > creates a mini-quagmire: "one is first drawn in by the opportunity to get a
    > dollar for less than a dollar, but as the bids rise, one is pulled along
    > each time by the reluctance to come in second place," the psychologists
    > wrote.
    > "Ego-threatened" players, they reported, bid and lost $3.71 on average
    > trying to buy a dollar; some lost their whole $5 allotment. The other
    > players didn't shine either, but they managed to contain their losses to an
    > average of $2.46.
    > The ego threats varied by experiment. In two setups, including the auction,
    > students were told before the game that they had flunked a creativity test.
    > Although creativity had little to do with the game, the results were
    > similar, the researchers wrote: "greater entrapment and greater financial
    > loss resulting from ego threat," no matter the type of game and ego threat.
    > Baumeister and Zhang observed that some researchers might demur with their
    > conclusions, and say the results actually reflect a form of rationality.
    > That is, people might rationally opt to spend money to preserve their egos.
    > But this seems unlikely, they added, because if this was the tradeoff
    > players counted on, it didn't work: they in fact lost both money and face.
    > "They felt doubly bad about themselves, first for enduring the ego threat
    > and second for losing their money."
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