It happened two weeks ago. I was driving home and the street in front of me was blocked by four people clustered together, each of them holding their smart phones in front of their faces. Did they spot a celebrity? Was this a selfie party? Was there an accident? No. It was worse: It was my first encounter with the Pokemon Go phenomenon. My slight annoyance at having the street momentarily blocked aside, I couldn’t help but feel a level of irritation at how obsessed each of them seem to be. And I was certain, this scene was being replayed on dozens of street corners, probably within my general vicinity.
But it also occurred to me: Why was I so upset at people who looked like they were having a fine ol’ time? They weren’t hurting anyone. They weren’t committing a crime. They were probably just like me, but in the span of one encounter, I had passed judgement on them as losers. Had I become…a hater?
It turns out it’s more scientific than that. It’s called the Dunning-Kruger Effect, a cognitive state that tells us that our perception of what we like is the only worthy one. This can even extend to our sense of morality and, surprisingly, to what we buy. Yes, even to Pokemon Go. Think of it as self inflicted superiority: If I’m not buying it, then it must not be valuable.
While it might be an innocent thought, there may be something sinister lurking underneath this way of thinking. Studies by psychologists asked volunteers to rate certain imaginary products by level of “like” and “hate”. By a surprising margin, many people rated items they didn’t recognize very low. A follow up with these same volunteers gave the same results. The undeniable conclusion was that people simply don’t like what they don’t know.
While that seems innocuous enough conclusion when one is speaking about, say, a refrigerator, is it reasonable enough to argue that this behavioral pattern could extend to politics? Or people? Certainly it’s a leap to say that a dislike for Pokemon Go extends to a dislike for a race of people, but it does bring up an interesting of how deep bias goes.
Another factor that might make one a “hater” is something ingrained in our psyche: A desire to stand out. We all want to be special. We all want to be the Chosen One, the favorite son. We write entire mythologies around it. When we see something like Pokemon Go - or any trendy activity - a part of us immediately can’t help but resist the siren call of conformity. At the same time, there’s a part of us that will always crave community. This is a primal conflict.
In the end, there is no simple answer to why we disdain trends, or jump arms open into them. But one thing we do know: The next fad is just around the corner. And so are the haters.