July 04, 2008

Sociology Selects a Presidential Running Mate

author_karen By Karen Sternheimer

Suppose you were in the unlikely position of choosing a running mate for your presidential bid. The right choice could help you become the most powerful person on earth. Make the wrong one and you risk becoming the pariah of your party. Can sociology help you make your decision?

Social psychologists have long studied how we make important choices like this one, and what factors make for best leaders. Here are a few simple rules based on their research:

  1. Don’t Choose One of Your Friends

It seems counterintuitive, but your friends should be the last pool you draw your running mate from. Here’s why: they tend to think like you and have similar backgrounds, lifestyles, tastes, and beliefs. They even tend to be morning people if you’re a morning person, or night people if you like to stay out late. According to the Matching Hypothesis, they even tend to match our levels of attractiveness. We are also more likely to hang out with people who share similar religious beliefs, emotional style, and sense of humor. 

While all these similarities might make for a good friend, a presidential candidate benefits from a running mate who is different. Typically, a running mate will clip_image002possess a quality, background, or social network that the candidate themselves lack. They might be from a different part of the country, have different constituents, and therefore can bring in different voters.

Aside from the problem of similarities, people tend to be more competitive with their friends than they are with others. Social psychologist Abraham Tesser conducted experiments where pairs of friends played Password (an old game show; a new version is now hosted by Regis Philbin), and had the chance to give their friends clues to help them answer the questions. When subjects were told that doing well was a sign of excellent verbal skills and leadership, friends were actually less helpful than strangers were! How come? Tesser’s Self-evaluation Maintenance Theory suggests that on issues highly relevant to our sense of self, we strive to perform well and save face even more with people who are in our social networks. Our identity is not bound up as much in what strangers think of us, so we are more likely to help them. 

For instance, I might feel less comfortable if friends or family scored higher on a sociology test than I did—that’s supposed to be my thing—compared with trivial pursuit questions about sports (not my thing). But with strangers I might not feel as deflated since they are not regularly in my life to remind me of my shortcomings.

And finally, if you have ever hired one of your friends before, trust me, there is no better way to damage a friendship than to become your friend’s boss. So save your friendship and your candidacy.

  1. Choose Someone You Dislike

I know what you’re thinking: why would anyone want to bestow a great opportunity upon someone that they don’t like? If you have ever worked with someone you didn’t much care for, you know that spending time with someone you don’t like is stressful.

But following the saying “keep your friends close and your enemies closer” might make a lot of sense. Keep in mind rule #1: your friends often have a similar ways of thinking and the same social networks as you do. A person you dislike frequently has a different perspective on many issues that will add valuable insight to your decision making process. They probably have completely different friends (who you will likely need favors from at some point) and different imagestrengths to draw from.

Oh, and you will probably end up liking them too. Proximity theory suggests that we feel internal pressure to like those we spend time with out of necessity. Another way of thinking about this is what is sometimes called the Ben Franklin Effect. Franklin wrote of his decision to win over a political opponent by asking  him to borrow a valued book. The rival subsequently agreed to his request--when people ask us for favors we often feel social pressure to say yes. After Franklin returned the book with gratitude, the former rival became a lifelong friend.

Why would this happen? Social psychologists explain it this way: it makes little sense to lend a valued possession to someone you dislike, so to reconcile this cognitive dissonance (or internal contradiction) we shift our beliefs to fit our choices. 

You probably do this without realizing it. I had a coworker once who bought a new car. I suspect it was out of his price range, and he continually touted the great value and performance of that automaker, even insisting that his car would appreciate in value over time. 

I seriously doubt that it appreciated in price, but I wasn’t the person he was trying to convince: he was trying to convince himself he had made the right decision. Likewise, choosing someone to be a vice presidential candidate is a big deal, and you might settle any cognitive dissonance by deciding that they’re really not that bad after all. 

  1. Agree to Disagree

Finally, pick someone who sometimes—even often—disagrees with you and is not afraid to speak up about it. If the VP can disagree with you, your other aides are more likely to be honest if they have misgivings about any of your plans. Dissenters make you develop stronger, more reasoned positions. In situations where conformity is encouraged or even demanded, decisions are more likely to be riddled with errors. 

The classic studies by Solomon Asch demonstrate this point. In his conformity experiments he asked subjects to compare lines on cards and tell him which was longer; a very simple task. Unbeknownst to the subjects, Asch instructed some participants to choose a line that was clearly shorter. While not everyone chose the wrong line, a surprisingly large percentage of subjects picked the shorter one. When there was no pressure to conform, nearly everyone made the correct choice.

The combination of conformity and power can have catastrophic effects, when agreeing with the group trumps one’s own intellectual and ethical judgment. Avoiding groupthink-the process of becoming so insulated in the group’s belief system that individual and critical thought virtually disappears--is the best way to make good decisions for the country. Besides, allowing dissent is the hallmark of a strong leader—and a free society.


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This article was about choosing a running mate for a presidential race, i found this article and it's ways of choosing a partner very insightful,with tips like choose someone you dislike because they share different value,beliefs, and ideas from you and there is surely something you can pick up from them how can you not find this article insightful.

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