Signal seeding

What does it say about a person if they never get up before noon?

If they are the first person to exist, it probably says that morning was for some reason a convenient time to sleep.

If they live in parts of modern society, it might say that they are lazy and weak willed.

How did getting up at one time or another come to signal laziness? You still have to get up once per day.

One story I can imagine is that originally there was some weaker reason to get up early. For instance if your work benefited by sunlight, you could get a bit more in. And then since that was a reasonable thing to do, people who didn’t do it looked like they were less good at getting up. Which made getting up early even better thing to do, so that everyone knows that you can.

And then people who had been on the fence before about whether to bother getting up early started to find it worth their while.  Making the remaining noon-sleepers even more weak willed on average. And so it continues, until sleeping until the afternoon strongly suggests laziness.

In general, if an action is a tiny bit good, not doing it can look a tiny bit bad (or stupid, or lazy, or incapable). Which makes it better to do, which makes it look worse to not do it, and so on. And maybe in the end the speck of good that started this disappears, but the value of sending the signal if you can is enough that the equilibrium is stable.

Does this actually happen?

9 responses to “Signal seeding

  1. > Does this actually happen?

    No. The idea that sleeping in means your lazy is mostly due to Puritan idealism working its way into every part of our culture, not evolutionary psychology.

    • Then isn’t the question is how Puritans came to make that inference?

      (I meant to ask whether the general phenomenon happens, but the sleep example seems interesting enough.)

    • This seems like a pretty natural consequence of any work culture that involves a standard end time for people to shift from work to social bonding. If you shift your schedule later, you have fewer hours before everyone shifts into relaxation mode. (When I did office work I found it hard to avoid joining people for happy hour on Fridays even if I’d come in at a comparatively late hour.) If you shift your schedule earlier, more of your waking hours are in the time when people are supposed to be working, and you do less social bonding.

  2. Pingback: Rational Feed – deluks917

  3. A similar example (though not signaling related) from divination rituals acted as crude randomization devices that gave a slight advantage in hunting/farming (by helping avoid depletion). We no longer derive advantage from the rituals, but superstitions in general persist.

  4. Does it have to do with age? Teenagers want to wake up later than most children and adults – maybe in this case waking later got associated with immaturity? (But not as immature as babies, who wake early?)

  5. Richard Kennaway

    One reason to get up early is to get up earlier than everyone else, so you’re up and running while they’re still putting their socks on. They may get to be up later, but to less advantage as the fag end of the day is nobody’s best hours.

    Another reason is not to get up early, as such, but to get up promptly, rather than lazing on while the things that are go unattended.

  6. stephenrdiamond

    And maybe in the end the speck of good that started this disappears, but the value of sending the signal if you can is enough that the equilibrium is stable.

    There’s a certain historical inertia, but if the speck of good disappears, the equilibrium is that the signal has no value. At least, I don’t see why this shouldn’t be the case. And if you think otherwise, I’d expect a more convincing example. (Folks who get up late in fact tend to score lower on the Conscientiousness superfactor.)

  7. Artificial light costs money. It used to cost a lot more. If you wake up when the sun comes up, you can snarf as much free daylight as you want. If you work outdoors, odds are you need that free daylight to get everything done during the various crunch seasons. It’s only in the Hunger Games books that they give you night vision goggles and send you out to harvest grain with a scythe.

    If you sleep late, that means you can afford it. You have money for artificial light. You don’t have all that much work to do, especially not outdoors. For most people, sleeping late wasn’t an option.


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