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The Abilene Paradox

How often has this happened to you: your family gets together for the holidays and ends up doing something -- going out for food, playing some game, going to see a movie -- that nobody actually wants to do? This happened to me over the holidays when my family planned a trip to a local restaurant. We all agreed to go at a certain time, because each of us assumed that everybody else wanted to go. But secretly, nobody wanted to go. We caught the situation at the last minute when somebody piped up and confessed that he didn't particularly want to go out. "Oh, me neither!" we all agreed.

There's a name for this situation, my brother then told us: the Abilene paradox. According to Wikipedia:

The Abilene paradox is a paradox in which a group of people collectively decide on a course of action that is counter to the preferences of any of the individuals in the group. It involves a common breakdown of group communication in which each member mistakenly believes that their own preferences are counter to the group's and do not raise objections.

Of course, in my case somebody did raise an objection -- but there must have been countless instances where we've done something (like seen a particular movie, etc.) which actually none of us particularly wanted to do. Read more about the Abilene paradox after the jump.

More from Wikipedia:

It was observed by management expert Jerry B. Harvey in his article The Abilene Paradox and other Meditations on Management. [Now expanded into a book -Higgins] The name of the phenomenon comes from an anecdote in the article which Harvey uses to elucidate the paradox:

"On a hot afternoon visiting in Coleman, Texas, the family is comfortably playing dominoes on a porch, until the father-in-law suggests that they take a trip to Abilene [53 miles north] for dinner. The wife says, "Sounds like a great idea." The husband, despite having reservations because the drive is long and hot, thinks that his preferences must be out-of-step with the group and says, "Sounds good to me. I just hope your mother wants to go." The mother-in-law then says, "Of course I want to go. I haven't been to Abilene in a long time."

The drive is hot, dusty, and long. When they arrive at the cafeteria, the food is as bad. They arrive back home four hours later, exhausted.

One of them dishonestly says, "It was a great trip, wasn't it." The mother-in-law says that, actually, she would rather have stayed home, but went along since the other three were so enthusiastic. The husband says, "I wasn't delighted to be doing what we were doing. I only went to satisfy the rest of you." The wife says, "I just went along to keep you happy. I would have had to be crazy to want to go out in the heat like that." The father-in-law then says that he only suggested it because he thought the others might be bored.

The group sits back, perplexed that they together decided to take a trip which none of them wanted. They each would have preferred to sit comfortably, but did not admit to it when they still had time to enjoy the afternoon.

Have you experienced the Abilene paradox? Share your experiences in the comments...and remember to speak up the next time you don't want to do something!

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Humblebraggarts Are the Worst (Science Says So)
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Humblebraggarts. We all know (at least) one: that person who takes a woe-is-me tack to ostensibly "complain" about something when the real intent is to boast.

"It's noon, I haven't had a cup of coffee, and the espresso machine at this Mercedes dealer is broken. FML!"

"Have been sitting on the runway for 30 minutes. Next time I'm flying commercial instead of private."

In many ways, it's another version of #FirstWorldProblems, and social media outlets like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter have only made the practice more pervasive. As TIME reports, a new study has concluded that people see right through this fake humility—and like people less for doing it.

Researchers at Harvard and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill conducted a series of nine experiments, including a week-long diary study and a field experiment, to both identify the ubiquity of the behavior and then determine its effectiveness as a form of self-presentation. Their findings, which were published in the January Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, determined that if you're going to brag, people would rather you just be transparent about it.

"It's such a common phenomenon," Ovul Sezer, study co-author and an assistant professor of organizational behavior at UNC's Kenan-Flagler Business School, told TIME. "All of us know some people in our lives, whether in social media or in the workplace, who do this annoying thing. You think, as the humblebragger, that it's the best of both worlds, but what we show is that sincerity is actually the key ingredient."

Of the 646 participants, 70 percent of them could recall a recent humblebrag they'd heard—the majority of which (about 60 percent) were complaint-based. But the study showed, overwhelmingly, that any statements that could be perceived as humblebragging (whether complaint- or humility-based) "are less effective than straightforward bragging, as they reduce liking, perceived competence, compliance with requests, and financial generosity," according to the study's authors.

"Despite the belief that combining bragging with complaining or humility confers the benefits of each strategy," the study concluded, "we find that humblebragging confers the benefits of neither, instead backfiring because it is seen as insincere.”

In other words: they're not fooling anyone.

"If you want to announce something, go with the brag and at least own your self-promotion and reap the rewards of being sincere, rather than losing in all dimensions," Sezer said—though she suggested that an even more effective tactic is to find someone else to boast on your behalf. "If someone brags for you, that's the best thing that can happen to you, because then you don't seem like you're bragging," she told TIME.

However, Sezer's final piece of advice was not to be too hasty in your dismissal of humblebraggarts as a whole. "We all do it, to some extent," she said. "I hope I don't sound like I'm humblebragging when I talk about this research."

[h/t: TIME]

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Can You Figure Out Why the Turtles Bulge in This Optical Illusion?
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Ready for a little vision test? Akiyoshi Kitaoka, a Kyoto-based psychologist who studies visual illusions, created this eye-bending image that appears to bulge and bend. In the image, shared on Syfy.com, the horizontal and vertical lines actually run straight across and down, but they look like they ripple, and the shapes (Kitaoka calls them turtles) look like they’re different shades of gray, even though they’re an identical color.

As Phil Plait explains for Syfy, the key is in the corners—the turtle “legs,” if you will. “At each vertex between turtles, they form a rotated square divided into four smaller squares," he writes. "Note how they're offset from one another, giving a twist to the vertices.” If you zoom in closely on the image, the lines begin to straighten out.

The difference in the colors, meanwhile, is a result of the contrast between the black and white pixels outlining the turtles. If the outlines of the turtles were entirely black or entirely white, instead of a combination, the grays would look identical. But the contrast between the two fools your eyes into thinking they're different.

To see more of Kitaoka’s illusion art, you can follow him on Twitter @AkiyoshiKitaoka. Then, go check out these other amazing optical illusions.

[h/t Syfy]

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