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Familiarity Breeds Contempt

The saying “familiarity breeds contempt” devalues the many benefits of familiarity. The word “contempt” implies either disgust, or disrespect. Familiarity by itself does not lead to either disgust, or disrespect. Familiarity usually leads to a sense of security, comradeship and trust.

A mother will send her child to school with a familiar friend. But, she will not dream of it, if the person triggers her disgust. Benjamin Franklin said “Fish and visitors smell in three days.” Not three days, but three seconds are enough for you to feel disgusted by a new acquaintance. It is some unpleasant truth, not familiarity, which triggers such disgust.

Apart from disgust, contempt also means disrespect. If your subordinate treats you with less respect than before, the reason is not familiarity, but that you lost social status. Your position moved down in his subconscious list of social priorities. You became less important to him. But, he does not feel contempt (disgust) for you. His contempt (disrespect) is a result of his indifference to your concerns. The reason for such contempt is not familiarity, but the psychology of herd supremacy.

  • While it may not be true for a job interview, familiarity generally leads to a sense of security.
  • The cynical saying discourages friendships, since people become anxious to avoid becoming the painful objects of contempt through “over” familiarity.
  • Contempt implies disgust, or disrespect. Disgust is a visceral reaction to people, which generates prejudice and discrimination.
  • Disgust triggers behaviors, which try to distance oneself from the objects of disgust.
  • Disrespect is related to herd psychology. It is unrelated to familiarity, and is triggered by the competition for dominance.
  • Familiarity can lead to contempt, when dealing with subordinates.
  • Suitable control strategies can manage familiarity without disrespect, when dealing with subordinates.
  • Unintended disrespect can be caused by a loss in social standing.

Could An Amazing Algorithm Have Stunning Control Over Your Mind?
This is what happens when an engineer researches the mind. Way back in 1989, the writer, an engineer, catalogued how the ELIMINATION approach of an AI Expert System could reveal a way by which the nervous system could store and retrieve astronomically large memories.  That historic insight is central to the six irresistible premises presented in this website. 

Behind the scenes, these premises conceal an eye-opening revelation.  About the incredible speed of intuition.  A physician is aware of thousands of diseases and their related symptoms.  How does he note a symptom and focus on a single disease in less than half a second?  How could he identify Disease X out of 8000 diseases with just a glance?  

First, the total born and learned knowledge available to the doctor could not exist anywhere other than as the stored/retrieved data within the 100 billion neurons in his brain.  The perceptions, sensations, feelings and physical activities of the doctor could only be enabled by the electrical impulses flowing through the axons of those neurons.  The data enabling that process could be stored as digital combinations.

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xon hillocks could be storing digital combinations.  It could be adding each new incoming digital combination to its memory store.  The hillock could fire impulses, if it matched a stored combination. If not, it could inhibit further impulses.  Using stored digital data to make decisions about incoming messages could make the axon hillocks intelligent.

Third, combinations are reported to enable a powerful coding mode for axon hillocks.  Olfactory combinatorial data is known (Nobel Prize 2004) to store memories for millions of smells.  Each one of 100 billion axon hillocks have around a 1000 links  to other neurons.  The hillocks can mathematically store more combinations than there are stars in the sky. Each new digital combination could be adding a new relationship link.  In this infinite store, specific axon hillocks could be storing all the symptom = disease (S=D) links known to the doctor as digital combinations.

Fourth, instant communication is possible in the nervous system.  Within five steps, information in one hillock can reach all other relevant neurons.  Just 20 Ms for global awareness.  Within the instant the doctor observes a symptom, 
feedback and feed forward links could inform every S=D link of the presence of the symptom. Only the S=D link of Disease X could be recalling the combination and recognizing the symptom.

Fifth, on not recognizing the symptom, all other S=D hillocks could be instantly inhibiting their impulses. The S=D links of Disease X could be continuing to fire. Those firing S=D link would be recalling past complaints, treatments and signs of Disease X, confirming the diagnosis.  This could be enabling axon hillocks to identify Disease X out of 8000 in milliseconds.  Eliminating improbable (unrecognized) prospects to arrive at a possible (recognized in the past) solution powers the powerful inductive logic of the mind!

Worldwide interest in this website acknowledges its rationale. Not metaphysical theories, but processing of digital memories in axon hillocks could be explaining innumerable mysteries of the mind.  Over three decades, this website has been assembling more and more evidence of the manipulation of emotional and physical behaviors by narrowly focused digital pattern recognition.  It has also received over 2 million page views from over 150 countries.

Familiarity Breeds Contempt
Why Is Familiarity Important?
More knowledge can lead to less approval in cases, when people have specific priorities. Michael I. Norton reports that, the liking of members of a dating site for their dates decreased substantially after they had met them. Dating is a situation, where a prospective life partner is being evaluated against personal priorities. The negative scores reported by Norton were not triggered by familiarity, but by personal priorities. Similarly, at a job interview, the priority is job suitability and a low score will lead to rejection.

But, in the course of normal social interactions, familiarity leads to a greater sense of security and liking. The experiments of Beach (1992) suggest that even remote familiarity leads to vague liking. Beach introduced four fake students to a large college course. Each of the fake students - chosen to be of similar appearance - attended the course to varying degrees, some going to many classes, others to few; but none interacted with the other students. At the end of the course, the best liked student, despite never being talked to, was the one who had attended the most classes.

In the commercial arena, the advertising industry aims to make a brand name become as familiar as possible to the customer. When marketing cars, cell phones, or toiletries, the average customer is likely to encounter a successful brand name several times a day. The name is seen on television, newspapers, magazines and on highway signs. The buying decisions of customers are based on their higher sense of security for a familiar brand name.

Familiarity Breeds Contempt
Is Rudeness Common?

Sadly, the familiarity breeds contempt idea influences many people to withdraw from social contact. It favors the idea that closer relationships will lead to pain. Contempt implies painful social rejection. The same neural circuits, which report pain, fire when a person experiences social rejection. Sensitive people fear that familiarity will lead to the discovery of some contemptible weakness. Their expectations of pain come from their past encounters with bullies, who are contemptuous towards some “disgusting characteristic,” or towards perceived social inferiority.

Rude people act unthinkingly and instinctively. They viscerally disapprove of the varying racial, religious, political, or physical characteristics of people. They are arrogant towards people they consider to be inferior. But such people form a minority. A few bullies should not prevent you from getting closer to the majority of people, who are kind and considerate. An open approach to many people can help you to identify and avoid the narrow minded ones. For the few rude ones, there will be many, who can become your good friends. The false view that familiarity breeds contempt should not narrow your social interactions. Familiarity actually widens your choices.

Familiarity Breeds Contempt
What Triggers Disgust?

Disgust is a primary emotion, which drives people to avoid unclean, inedible, infectious, or gory objects. The emotion can be triggered by the smell, taste, touch, or vision of spoiled foods, dead bodies, poor hygiene, or body fluids such as feces, vomit, or phlegm. Musically sensitive people may even be disgusted by a cacophony of sounds. Disgust triggers a characteristic facial expression, which is common across ages, races and cultures around the world. Contempt is typically expressed, when the corner of the lip is tightened and raised slightly on one side of the face.

While disgust developed for the avoidance of objects, evolution adapted the emotion to discourage destructive social interactions. Functional MRI experiments have revealed that the anterior insula in the brain is particularly active when experiencing disgust, when exposed to offensive tastes, and when viewing facial expressions of disgust. Specific social situations also activate those neural circuits, which are associated with disgust. Mirror neurons enable social groups to share such emotions, which control social behavior.

Communities feel disgust towards individuals, who lie, steal, cheat, sell out, or betray their own values, threatening the entire group. Unfortunately, when when one social group feels threatened by another, the disgust emotion creates raw prejudice. Disgust leads to bigotry in the forms of sexism, racism and religious extremism. It was responsible for the oppressions of the cast system in India. The disgust aspect of contempt defined the quality of behavior towards such people.

Familiarity Breeds Contempt
What Happens When You Feel Disgust?
Disgust occurs, when someone does not meet certain racial, religious, or moral characteristics, or does not live up to expected interpersonal standards. Disgust impels people to become “cold” and physically and psychologically distance themselves from the object of disgust. Disgust eliminates empathy for such people. Lacking awareness of their feelings, disgust causes them to make scornful, or sarcastic comments.

Disgust prevents people from openly confronting, or personally interacting with such people. Their desire is that the object of contempt should remove himself or be removed by others. John Gottman suggests that the most destructive aspect of marriage is the expression of disgust. Such behaviors reflect either innate prejudices, or a lack of empathy and understanding. Familiarity has nothing to do with such instinctive disgust induced expressions of contempt.

Familiarity Breeds Contempt
When Does Contempt Lead To Disrespect?

Disrespect, which is another subconscious aspect of contempt, is actually a behavioral lapse. The person fails to show respect, because he does not recognize the person as being important in his life. Respect is a social emotion, which controls the behavior of social hierarchies in a group of people. Respect compels individual members to voluntarily ignore their own needs to serve a social superior. Respect, motivated by fear, sets off a placating pattern of behavior, conceding power to the strong.

Respect pays attention to the superior person, defers to his judgments and values the relationship. A respectful approach saves the weak from being attacked by the strong. Instinctively, people respect their superiors and ignore their inferiors. They feel little need to pay attention to the feelings and needs of their inferiors. Even a subordinate can act with disrespect towards his superior. Such unconscious behavior makes the victim feel the pain of social rejection - the pain of being treated with contempt. The culprit feels no emotion, but merely ignores the victim.

Familiarity Breeds Contempt
Is Familiarity The Reason For Contempt?

In rare cases, Mark Twain's view “Familiarity breeds contempt – and children” can lead at least to disrespect. Attendants to people in positions of power can become awed by their celebrity friends, homes and limousines. But, as time passes, the human failures and foibles of such idols become exposed and the sense of awe subsides. Such weaknesses could also trigger disgust. If they feel safe enough in their positions, they could even show disrespect. In both cases, it is not familiarity, but other psychological factors, which lead to contempt.

Familiarity Breeds Contempt 
Can Control Go With Familiarity?

Quiet people sometimes worry that the disrespectful behavior of a subordinate happened, because she was allowed to become too familiar. Such disrespect is not caused by familiarity. Some people are dominant by nature and they need to be dealt with differently from those who naturally respect authority. Dominant people are social predators, who constantly assert status in small ways. They will feel superior and act with disrespect, if your behaviors lower your status.

Do not let your subordinate become convinced that her needs and opinions are more important than your own. If you imply that your needs are less important than the needs of your subordinate, she will believe it to be true. If you defer to their views, rather than hold your own, they will feel that their opinions are superior. Preventing such loss of control requires conscious effort. Cesar Milan, the “dog whisperer,” demonstrates the principle of status in a herd. He is able to prevent hyperactive dogs on his leash from attacking visitors, or chasing other dogs.

He communicates his position of command through deliberate and occasional tugs of the leash. When dealing with aggressive people, who constantly tend to move into your space, it is important to steadily exercise control, even if the decisions involved appear petty. Make it clear that your needs have precedence. Assert your control over the work, even if the decision appears unimportant. Better to appear petty than to dismiss the subordinate after he has trampled all over you.

Familiarity Breeds Contempt
When Does Contempt Happen?

The pain of social rejection is felt strongly, when a person has lost status in her social circle. A high status implies respect, where people are conscious of your presence, attend to your needs and value your opinions. It is painful to be in a situation, when status is lost. Such people feel the pain of being ignored, of being treated with less respect.

Once you have completed a purchase, a salesman may pay you less attention. It is important to understand that the people who show less respect are not showing contempt. Their minds no longer warn them of the importance of the person. It is painful, when you have been overlooked for the position to be the next manager. Do not add to your pain by thinking that any disrespect shown to you by your colleagues is an expression of contempt. While a few may be vindictive, the majority will merely be reacting instinctively to new realities.

This page was last updated on 31-Dec-2013.

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