Often we wonder why some people go out of the way to contribute in any social situation (e.g. in a housing society). And, we also feel irritated why some people never seem to come forward to contribute.
In this context, this post aims to do the following:
- Identify the 2 mental models that often drive the behavior of both types of people
- Show how these 2 mental models are somewhat biased or incomplete in the beginning
- Show how the biases in these 2 mental models get reinforced over time, leading to astable equilibrium situation
Note that what follows are just 2 of the possible mental models. There can be many more mental models that drive both types of behaviors mentioned above. The reason I am emphasizing these 2 mental models is that these are the 2 mental models that are mutually reinforcing and socially conflicting. Therefore, the 2 types of people having these 2 mental models will end up precipitating their mutual differences. My intent in writing this article to let people see how such models unnecessarily increases differences between people. I am hoping that once people see the mechanism mentioned below, their appreciation of different behaviors will improve!
Now, let me show the mechanism by taking the case of a newly established housing society, where people have to come together and contribute for various resident welfare causes (such as maintenance, security, arranging social events, policies for visitors/maids/servants/vendors, etc.).
Year 0: Biased mental models at the beginning
Contributor initially operate under the following mental model:
There are lot of free-riders in this world. But, in order to change things, someone needs to take the lead. So, let me take the initiative here!
The above mental model is somewhat biased. Because there may be some reasons behind why some people are choosing not to contribute. Not all of them are necessarily free-riders!
Non-contributor initially operate under the following mental model:
In social situations, there will always be criticism, no matter what you do. I do not know how other people motivate themselves to contribute in these causes. Perhaps, such people have an ulterior motive of either gaining power, prestige, or money. Well, I do not have any such appetite for criticism and any such desire for any perks. So, this thing is not for me!
This mental model is partially correct, because it is indeed impossible to please all people all the times. But where this mental model is biased is that there may be a lot of people who want to contribute without any expectation of return!
During year 1: Contributors feel unfair and refine their mental model
Contributor’s refined mental model and approach:
Well I have been working so hard for last 1 year, without anything in return. Others are not contributing. But, I cannot go on contributing and working for free-riders. It is unfair. So, in order to be fair to me, let me now draw some perks out of my position!
So, as you can see, a lot of the contributors get more frustrated when the non-contributors continue to not contribute. Their mental model gets reinforced. So, they gradually start justifying seeking some perks in lieu of his efforts.
After year 1: Mental models get reinforced
Non-contributor’s reinforced mental-model:
Those guys have now started benefiting from their positions — in terms of drawing power, prestige, and potentially some money. See I already told you! I always knew that they had that motive of gaining power, prestige, or money. That is why they were so keen to contribute. I did the right thing by staying away. In fact, now I will stay away even more!
So, as you can see, a lot of the non-contributors now see the contributor drifting towards seeking perks for their efforts. Their mental model gets reinforced!
Contributor’s reinforced mental model:
Whole 1 year has passed. The more I contribute, the more these guys are free-riding. Now my belief is further strengthened that these guys are free-riders. And, it is totally fair that I keep drawing perks for my contributions!
So, as you can see, the contributors see the non-contributors drifting more towards free-riding. Their mental model gets reinforced!
After a few more years: Mental models in stable equilibrium
Contributors’ stabilized mental model:
Those who do not contribute in social situations are free riders by nature.
Non-contributors’ stabilized mental-model:
Those who contribute in social situations have an ulterior motive of gaining power, prestige, or money.
The above example is a very modest attempt to highlight the mechanism of reinforcement of biased mental models over time.
If we can appreciate this mechanism, we can begin to appreciate how our biased/incomplete mental model cause and precipitate our inter-personal differences.
Hopefully, then we will be able to make our mental models more mature and closer to reality!