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We all can recognize awkwardness when it happens,
but some people seem more prone
to awkward moments than others.
They have to adapt to society's social norms,
but it's hard because their brains
function a little bit differently.
So - why do humans feel awkwardness?
According to Ty Tashiro,
author of the appropriately-titled book 'Awkward',
this is part of human evolution.
In hunter-gatherer times, sticking with social norms,
like saying thank you when someone gives you something,
or waiting your turn for food,
was a way to keep tight-knit groups together
and keep out anyone who might be a threat.
Today, we're still sensitive to tiny, even silly social customs
like responding to “how are you” with “fine” as a sign of mutual respect.
When you deviate from those norms, it's awkward.
And for some people, these social graces just don't come naturally.
Take eye contact, for example.
Studies say the right amount of eye contact during conversations
is about 3.3 seconds.
But awkward people don't instinctively do that.
But when we don't look people in the eyes,
it makes them feel socially ostracized.
According to Tashiro's work,
awkward people tend to look at other parts of the face,
like the chin or the ear, more than the eyes.
Therefore, they might end up alienating the person they're talking to,
and missing out on important information
about how that person might be feeling.
The good news is that if your brain isn't great at social cues,
it might be good at other stuff instead.
Research shows that many autistic people
are amazing at memory, pattern recognition,
and problem solving.
Similarly, awkward people, Tashiro says,
often have obsessive interests and talents.
The biggest one is called the “rage to master,”
which comes from research on gifted kids.
It means that awkward people will
want to soak up everything they can about
their field of interest.
And they'll work at it for much longer
than non-awkward people will.
Only about 15 percent of the population is awkward, according to Tashiro.
But this issue of awkwardness will become
increasingly important as we rely on
artificial intelligence to interact with humans.
He writes that one of the biggest reasons
people find robots off-putting is that they
can't quite get social routines down.
They stand too close to people,
or they interrupt at the wrong time.
In other words, the robots are awkward.
Robotics researchers are trying to overcome this
by teaching the robots stories about human behavior
and rewarding them whenever they act
like a non-awkward human would.
In that way, the robots are like awkward people themselves,
studying social interaction like a second language.
But at least for now, awkward people still
have an easier time mastering human interaction.
This is You Are Here,
a new series about the science behind everyday life.
Let us know what topics you want us to explore in the comments.
I'm Olga Khazan, thank you for watching.
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Why Are Humans Awkward?

99 Folder Collection
Courtney Shih published on February 19, 2020    Julie Tu translated    Evangeline reviewed
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