Monday, June 15, 2009

How to become well endowed

No, this is not going to be a plug for "male enhancement". But much like the male insecurities that modern day hoaxers prey upon, the endowment effect I'll be talking about is all in your head.

The "endowment effect" is a cognitive bias that is as common as the need for sex - and the reason for this is that we all fall for it.

Realizing when you do can help you prevent doing irrational things that will hurt you in the long run. And realizing when others do can help you use it to your advantage. Scientia potentia est!

Imagine you bought an expensive bottle of wine. Or tickets to a superbowl game. Or you lay a woman who you invited to a series of three upscale dinner dates. Imagine another guy got all these things for free. Who do you think will gain greater enjoyment out of the experience?

The answer is probably not that surprising. The more you pay for wine, the more you'll think of it as excellent. People who buy more expensive tickets tend to believe they just watched an amazing game. And guys who pay for sex and relationships value more what they get in return. Our need to feel good about ourselves is bigger than our need to see the truth. We cannot admit to ourselves that we overpaid, so we just bend the reality and believe that we got something special instead.

The endowment effect is a derivative of our tendency to attribute higher value to things we achieved the hard way (no matter their actual value). It just goes one step further:
"Endowing" is the (irrational) tendency to value things you own more than things you do not (yet) own.

This error of thought is so popular, it even made its way into a figure of speech:
"A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush."

This belief is so nonsensical it became the object of interest for economists, psychologists, social scientists and primatologists alike. It is a very powerful effect. Yet, unlike other cognitive biases such as social proof, it never made it into sales or PUA tactics.

But what does it mean for social dynamics?

Relationships have a strong "owning" component to them. Men like to "own" a woman completely in order to ensure the monopoly of insemination. Women crave a man's commitment as a way to get a hold of his child rearing resources.
And the moment we start seeing another person as our own, we are prone to fall for the fallacy.

This is the reason why some couples cling together while everyone around them realizes that they are as good a fit as a fist in a nostril. People attribute their partners higher value merely by being with them.

It is easy to think of ways to use this effect to your advantage. Briefly opening as many sets as possible in the beginning of the night, for example, can get you much more attention (and action) later on when the atmosphere gets somewhat more heated up. And once you join a woman's life, there will be less need to hide any flaws.

But maybe more importantly, you will profit from constantly checking yourself for signs of "endowing". The mere fact that men typically approach while women remain passive, for example, seems to bend the laws of attraction (women get less choosy if they are the ones who are forced to approach).

And since Life=Game this will be another valuable skill in your arsenal. Once you get the hang of avoiding this fallacy with women, you might look at at that old job/car/house of yours with very different eyes...


  1. "Imagine another guy got all these things for free."
    I remind myself of this every single time a girl fishes for a drink or suggests we do dinner.
    the strippers I dated were an extreme example of this, for girls who live in an inflated sense of value as men offer hundreds of dollars to simply take them out to dinner/see a movie, often they date guys that don't spend jack shit on them, a true inverse of the common man's backwards rationalizing.
    the 3 strippers I dated: one was the one dancer I didn't tip that night (proof if there ever was proof of your theorem), the 2nd i took out to dinner once and paid for the hotel where I banged her, the 3rd - the pitchers of beer I bought myself and my wingman. that's it.

  2. Good point. This is why so very many people put up with stupid shit at work, in relationships, and so on. I always try to remain unattached as possible to mitigate this.

  3. Small quibble: the "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush" deals with risk, not the endowment effect. If you already have something, there is no risk to obtaining it, whereas there is risk in attempting to obtain the two birds: you may get both, or you may get neither.

  4. @Michael: Good point.

    Risk aversion ads to the effect.

    One reason people cling to their partners/jobs/lifestyles is the fear of not getting any better.

  5. But part of the point is that the endowment effect causes you to misweigh the various risks. If you are in a relationship, you will downplay the expected value of looking for poon on the open market relative to what you get from a mediocre relationship.