Let’s face it, we’re all a little bit self-involved. It’s not just that we spend a lot of time thinking about ourselves. There’s another layer to it: we spend a lot of time thinking about what other people think about us. We take pains to present ourselves in the best possible light; we fret over whether we made a good impression; and we do our best to shape and manage our reputations. It’s honestly hard to imagine not doing any of this—seeing ourselves from the outside can feel like pure reflex. But what are the deeper origins of this tendency? When does it arise in childhood? What are the underpinnings and consequences of reputational thinking?
My guests today are Dr. Mika Asaba, a postdoc in the Psychology Department at Yale University, and Dr. Hyo Gweon, Associate Professor of Psychology at Stanford University. Together, Mika and Hyo recently published a paper about reputational thinking in young children.
In this conversation, we talk about the broader context of this research and lay out some concepts central to it, like “self-presentational behavior” and “theory of mind.” We walk through four experiments in which 3- and 4-year-old children showed a clear interest in their reputations. They strategically communicated to certain people—or about certain events—to make sure they came across well. We then consider the provocative possibility that humans are especially motivated to think about others’ minds when those other minds are thinking about us. We discuss whether similar reputation-related behaviors might be present in other species, and how reputational thinking might vary across cultures. Finally, we touch on a few ways Hyo and Mika are hoping to extend this work into new terrain.
Honestly I got excited about this paper just by reading the first few sentences of the abstract. It takes on such an obviously big and rich and fascinating research question. That basic reflex—to see ourselves through the eyes of others—feels so elemental and so critical to understanding the human mind. Alright friends, without further ado, here’s my conversation with Dr. Mika Asaba & Dr. Hyo Gweon. Enjoy!