Short-term, long-term in selection games

Natural Hazard prompts in the Pfeilstorch server:

“The biggest problem with misrepresenting who you are in dating is that you might succeed.” Generalized: “The biggest reason to not strategically misrepresent yourself in a selection game is that you might succeed.” What properties of a selection game determine if or when this is good advice?

Selection games, in my factoring, are ~entrance examination, hosted by one (super)organism to evaluate another (super)organism, prior to admitting the evaluated party past city gates (so to speak). These superorganisms, wrapped as they are by the constructed and constantly maintained boundaries (walls) necessary for preserving homeostasis, are faced with the existential problem of bringing in goal-advancing resources from the outside—energy, minerals, symbiotic agents—while simultaneously preventing entry by adversarial forces—chemicals, fungi, parasites, spies—whose intentions or effects run counter to the superorganism’s. Hence these boundaries’ semi-permeability.

At many levels of organization, this detection system is performed by some combination of intelligent evaluators, automated tests, and opticraticratic assessment. The evaluated party always wants in, and the selecting party only wishes to admit those evaluateds which will advance its own goals as host and selector. Thus while the selector/evaluator wants “truth,” in an evolutionary epistemology sense of the word, the evaluated is agnostic to truth; his primary interest is entry, and if strategically minded, he will present any version of himself which will secure this entry.

The question “When does the applicant shoot himself in the foot through misrepresentation?” then translates to the question, “When does an applicant not actually want an unconditional admission?” Alternatively, “When are the evaluated party and the evaluating party deeply aligned as to the selection game’s goals and outcome?”

(Because we are dealing with questions of alignment, we must recognize, following Schelling, that motivations are always mixed; there is never a situation of total misalignment and thereby conflict, nor of pure alignment and therefore cooperation. I will speak of what is in reality a spectrum as if it were dichotomous; when I say “aligned” you may substitute “approaches the limit of alignment,” and so on.)

I fear my answers will be somewhat underwhelming, but I’ll lay them out anyways.

One such occasion: when the applicant shares—is aligned with—the larger agenda of the hosting superorganism. That is, the superorganism hosting the selection game does not seek entrants for its own sake, but for the sake of some other goal or project, in which they enlist the entrants. If a volunteer truly and purely believes in the mission of the NGO he applies for—if he is relatively indifferent to the possibility of (say) living abroad, working on a team, gaining moral relief, and instilling their life with meaning—then his interests, and the interests of the committee assessing him, are aligned. On a date, or even in a sexual hookup encounter, the more one party is interested in the other party’s future experience and outcomes, the less incentive there is for deception. To generalize: cet par the extent to which an applicant, in a selection game, is aligned with the larger interests (beyond the selection game) of its hosting institution, the more the applicant is aligned with the interests of the hosting institution within the selection game, i.e. the less incentive there is for misrepresentation.

A second occasion: when the selection game is only a preliminary stage in an ongoing, always revocable assessment to determine fit, in which a selected party does not receive rewards linearly w/r/t how long he goes without having his entrance permissions revoked. Compare three highly lucrative, prestigious grant awards, each of which covers a four-year project funding period, with recipients’ activity closely monitored. In the first, funding and title are given in toto, up-front, and cannot be revoked. In the second, funding is doled out steadily, month over month, and one’s “title” works much like job history on a CV—cet par, the symbolic capital allocated roughly tracks how long one held the position. Finally, in the third, funding and title are only given retroactively, at the end of the four years. In the first get-up, there is strong incentive for scammers; in the last, there is very little. The constant, intimate surveillance that comes post-entrance (“within the city walls”) allows much closer, harder-to-fake assessment, and a scammer who is not qualified will be expelled; they will have gained nothing, and only wasted time. We can track similar dynamics in sexual hookups vs. dating—someone looking for a long-term partner is much less incentivized to misrepresent himself than someone looking for a one-night stand.

This brings us to the third occasion, related to the second: when the benefit of entrance is only dispensed when the match in actuality is “correct.” We see constant scamming to gain entrance to universities, because even if one graduates from an elite college with poor grades (e.g. because the program was too academically demanding), a significant earnings advantage, network advantage, etc over peers who attended less rigorous programs is conferred through title alone. While some especially poor students may be unable to graduate—in a situation similar to that of the second occasion—there are many students who would only gain admission through misrepresentation, but who are still readily able to graduate and receive the title. On the other hand, a university system where titles held no benefit (and where tuition prices were all equal, where one’s peers were unknown or randomized, etc etc…), and where the only or primary benefit of university was the education itself, then applicants would have strong incentive to find a “correct” match between themselves and the universities, so that the program fits their needs and weaknesses.

The fourth and most obvious occasion is: when misrepresentation may be discovered and caught. Misrepresentation in selection games where honesty is legally required can risk costs far exceeding what is gained by selection.

I think together, these three occasions explain why, in fact, there is relatively high alignment in many games between selected and selector, while highlighting which games we should expect to be most scammy. They are not perfectly distinct categories; many overlap, and could well be re-carved; but together, they hopefully give a sense of the terrain.

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