Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Niche Finding

Holding quality constant, I tend to enjoy movies more the lower my expectations are. This seems like a fairly universal tendency. For example, the main predictor of a student's enjoyment of a class is the extent of positive deviation in their actual grade from their expectations (here).

My explanation for this tendency is as a mechanism to spur niche finding. In this large world, it is hard to stake out our own identity. Thus, we constantly are on the lookout for things that we enjoy more than others to portray our unique values and thus define us.

As evidence for this, consider how much people love to note that some particular work of art is underrated. The next time you hear someone say something is underrated, probe a bit.

If you disagree with how good that work of art objectively is, they may give some playful rebuttals but won't really mind. However, if you disagree with their assumption that the work of art is rated low by the majority, and thus imply that they are not really unique for liking it, they will get rather annoyed. So, it is not the actual quality of the underrated thing that people mostly care about, but rather their own uniqueness in liking it.