Asking versus guessing.

A few months back, several bloggers commented about the difference between “asking” cultures and “guessing” cultures.  As the name suggests, “asking” cultures are ones in which you can directly ask for what you want, and “guessing” cultures are ones in which you don’t ask unless you’re sure the answer will be yes.  Jonathan Chait believes that “askers” are right, and “guessers” are wrong.

In the sexual realm, I think an “asking” culture beats a “guessing” culture hands down:

I’ve always thought that the maintenance of a “guessing” culture was motivated in part by snobbery and a desire to increase the level of social obscurity so as to create outsiders who could not be “in the know.”

And another reason I don’t like the “guessing” culture is that what is “obvious” to one person may be quite opaque to another.  There was a study done, a few years ago, that demonstrated that, oftentimes, someone may think that what they are communicating is crystal clear, and easily “guessed,” when in fact it is not.  (Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find this study online.  Google is often useless when I’m searching for something specific.)

As I remember it, some of the participants in this study were asked to tap their fingers to the rhythm of a common song, (“Jingle Bells” for example).  Other participants were asked to guess what song was being “tapped.”  As it happens, the persons doing the tapping greatly overestimated how often the other person would be able to guess what song they were tapping with their fingers.  So, what we think is “obvious” often isn’t.

In the sexual realm, what is and isn’t “obvious” often differs a great deal between men and women because of their different life experiences.  For example, many women, by the time they reach their mid-twenties, have been approached by men thousands of times.  For men, however, this is often not the case.  I’m on the far side of thirty-five, and I’ve been approached two times.  (If we define “approaching someone” as initiating a conversation and indicating a romantic interest.)  And I definitely haven’t approached women thousands of times.  So I think it’s fair to say that the average woman, even by being relatively passive, is probably going to gain much more experience than the average man in picking up the social cues that indicate sexual interest.  And that’s why an “asking” culture, better for both men and women, is especially better for most men.

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6 Responses to Asking versus guessing.

  1. Cessen says:

    That video is priceless. I’ve certainly had experiences like that guy…

  2. Cessen says:

    I couldn’t find the specific study, but here is a good overview of “The Illussion of Transparency” as it seems to be called:
    http://youarenotsosmart.com/2010/07/14/the-illusion-of-transparency/

  3. TrollKING says:

    Good points. I had heard of the asking v. guessing cultures before but it has been awhile to say the least. Good points especially about the approaching aspects of sexual relations.

  4. Hugh Ristik says:

    Miguel, check out this post on LessWrong.com about norms for asking vs. guessing. It has some ideas (including my own) about why so many guessing norms exist.

  5. Jim says:

    Guessing versus asking comes down to the lack or presence of a shared subtext. Asking marks the person you have to ask as a stranger; guessing marks tham as a member of one’s own culture or sub-culture. Asking is especially important in a marketplace setting where people meet as butyers and sellers and not much else, and cannot count on a common language, much less a common cultural understanding. Guessing is a feature of traditional cultures, or cultures with strong we-they boundaries.

    “I’ve always thought that the maintenance of a “guessing” culture was motivated in part by snobbery and a desire to increase the level of social obscurity so as to create outsiders who could not be “in the know.”

    You can describe it as snobbery, but comfort describes it just as well. You see this a lot in language, where sub-groups invent their own jargons not only for greater efficiency but also as markers of belonging. think of all the buzzwords and terms of art used in the genderrsphere, for instance.

    This need for comfort is greater in high-strss situations, where bonding is the diffenrnece betwenn smooth functuioing and failure. Snobbery is really not a satisfacitry description in these cases.

  6. B405 says:

    Using my vast supply of free time, I found this on Google:

    http://barefootfts.com/blog/the-curse-of-knowledge

    Which is a fitness blog, it seems, but this post is well worth reading in its entirety.

    This effect seems to be called “the curse of knowledge”. Here’s something else I found:

    “In 1990, Elizabeth Newton earned a Ph.D. in psychology at Stanford by studying a simple game in which she assigned people to one of two roles: “tappers” or “listeners.” Tappers received a list of twenty-five well-known songs, such as “Happy Birthday to You” and “The StarSpangled Banner.” Each tapper was asked to pick a song and tap out the rhythm to a listener (by knocking on a table). The listener’s job was to guess the song, based on the rhythm being tapped. ”

    from:
    http://www.madetostick.com/excerpts/

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