What do the top Reddit posts of all time say about human nature?
One leading behavioral economist takes a stab at analyzing 'the homepage of the Internet.'
You might not expect people to care about kids eating bananas or tech-savvy plans for stopping rhino poaching, but these are some of the most widely shared posts on Reddit, often called the "homepage of the Internet." Which made us wonder: what do our Reddit posts say about us, as humans?
To find out, we shared some of the top Reddit posts of all time with behavioral economist Dan Ariely, known as the world's most irrational man. Ariely, an Israeli-American professor at Duke University, has become famous for explaining human decision-making. He looked at four of the top 10 Reddit posts of all time, and here's what he concluded.
'What tasty food would be distusting if eaten over rice?'
It's surprising enough that a 10-word post with a spelling mistake would become the top Reddit post of all time, especially about something as banal as rice. 38,446 people voted this post up and 7,795 commented, maybe because it really is an interesting question: How could rice, the simplest dish on the planet, make anything disgusting? Commenters came up with ingenious answers like Mentos, beer, Nutella and Skittles.
"It’s really about how deep culture is in determining our tastes," explained Ariely, who himself grew up in Israel. If everyone agreed on what was disgusting, if we had some sort of list of unacceptable foods, then this Reddit question wouldn't make any sense. Different people have different opinions about what is disgusting on rice, and that means culture really influences taste.
'This is Carter. He knocked on my door to ask if he could have a banana then left.'
I don't always knock on my neighbors' doors demanding fruit, but when I do, I ask for bananas. (Photo: Theone211/Imgur)
"He's doing something unacceptable for adults that's clearly acceptable for kids," Ariely pointed out. Imagine an adult coming to your door and asking for a banana ... Not so cute anymore, Ariely continued. So why is it adorable when a kid does it?
'I've spent the past two years shooting drone aerials around the world. Here are 38 images which would be totally illegal today.'
A Georgian hermit has been living on "The Katskhi Pillar" for 20 years. (Photo: Amos Chapple/Imgur)
We all love drone photos, but these in particular, taken by New Zealand photographer Amos Chapple, are something special.
"There's no question about the fact that they're beautiful," explained Ariely. "But the fact that they're illegal suggests that something has changed about the way we view them." Drones were legal one year and illegal the next, meaning that what we consider "okay" is really malleable. Much like Carter and his banana, whether it's socially acceptable for you to do something – be it ask for a banana or take photos with a drone – has a lot to do with when you do it.
'A biotech startup has managed to 3-D print fake rhino horns that carry the same genetic fingerprint as the actual horn. The company plans to flood Chinese rhino horn market at one-eighth of the price of the original, undercutting the price poachers can get and forcing them out eventually.'
3D printing is already saving human lives, and now it's starting to help out animals, too. "It's really is a story about how we use technology in a very interesting way," Ariely explained. "Here's someone who came up with a very clever approach of using market principles to kill the market."
Ariely also noticed something odd: this company plans on "using an illegal approach to do something we think is right." We all agree that people should stop poaching rhinos, but we also agree that it's wrong to sell a fake product. "If we sold people artificial saffron, that wouldn't be OK," argued Ariely. It seems that rhino wellbeing trumps market fairness.
According to Ariely, all of these Reddit posts have something in common: they make us question when something is right and when the same thing is wrong. Drone photography is legal one year, but illegal another. If you ask a neighbor for a banana as a kid, you're cute, but as an adult, you're weird. You shouldn't lie about a product you're selling, unless it's a 3D rhino horn. Nuances determine whether something is socially acceptable.
"Under what conditions do we find things right and wrong?" asked Ariely. "What is our judgement of right and wrong sensitive to?"
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