Optimal information disclosure strategies?

I recently wanted to look up stuff on optimal information disclosure strategies in social settings – i.e. stuff on how to make the implicit information sharing strategies people use more explicit in order to better optimize them. The goal would be to better understand which (classes of personal-) information to share with whom, at which point in time, etc. This stuff is hard – inappropriate information sharing, both in the form of oversharing and undersharing, as well as related issues such as those of (lack of) reciprocity, are common pitfalls in social settings, and given how social feedback systems tend to work people are often not informed when they make errors in judgment in this area. I haven’t really found the sort of stuff I’ve been looking for, and I think it’s probably because I’m not looking the right places (use the right search terms). If readers know where to find such material I’d be interested to learn more – I have a comment section for a reason..

Here are some examples of what may happen when people don’t optimize:

The sketches are sufficiently exaggerated and sufficiently specific to not feel like personal attacks on people who engage in not-too-dissimilar strategies, which is why (/some people think) they’re funny. Flawed information sharing strategies are not the only things which make these sketches funny, nor are information sharing strategies the only applied strategies which are suboptimal here; but they are an important part of the problem in quite a few of the sketches (do note that non-verbal information shared is relevant as well..). Do note that the examples here are for one domain-specific application only; this stuff also applies to friends, coworkers, acquaintances, and people you’ve never met before. I’m well aware that different strategies are optimal in different domains, even though different domains likely share many similar features at the (optimal) strategy level.

Anyway, coming up with good strategies seems to me to be really hard. I assume the fact that most online dating sites don’t seem to use user-uploaded videos even now in the youtube age is probably a clue that using this medium is highly likely to lead to oversharing. Maybe there’s a cost component as well (it’s easier to just write a bit of stuff about yourself), but I’m not convinced this explanation is satisfactory without adding coordination problems and similar stuff as well (you don’t want to be the only one making a video because that presumably makes you look desperate compared to the people who do not?). I’m still a bit confused as to why videos aren’t more common in this area; they somehow seem efficient. Do privacy concerns drive this as well? I don’t know.

I tend to rely on ‘personal judgment’ regarding when to share what and in which manner; but as mentioned I’ll often find it hard to tell if my ‘personal judgment’ is off because I don’t really know very much about this stuff, and I rarely make an effort of ‘inviting new people into my life’ so I don’t have a lot of experience either. Learning these skills requires a certain amount of trial and error, sure, but it should be possible to study this stuff as well. To some extent I rely on implicit models of my own (‘personal judgment’ does include variables such as ‘time we’ve known each other’, ‘estimated degree of intimacy’, ‘information shared by the other party in the past’, etc.), but these models are likely flawed and incomplete and they don’t contain much information about dynamic elements in the equation because that’s the stuff I find particularly hard to figure out; stuff like who is supposed to ‘escalate’ – and how and ‘how far’ to ‘escalate’ – when a desire to move the social relationship from one point to another on the implicit intimacy-scale exists. Where to find better models, or at least a conceptual treatment of this kind of stuff?

Or am I overthinking all of this and the implementation of near-optimal information sharing strategies is basically considered irrelevant by most people because only severe deviations from the norm are ever (surreptitiously) punished anyway? Social interaction stuff is very complex so this would make sense; if it’s easy to get things not-quite-right it’ll often be optimal for the other party to allow for a wide margin of error.

A problem I have with the explanation in the above paragraph is that even if the level of model complexity involved here is staggering, most people do seem to engage to some extent in such optimization processes anyway – using whichever sources of information they consider to be reliable and informative (for example I’m aware that some subreddits are filled with this kind of stuff). They wouldn’t do this if ‘semi-normal’ deviations from ‘acceptable behaviour’ didn’t matter, so on some ‘relevant’ margins they clearly do.


May 9, 2013 - Posted by | Psychology, Random stuff


  1. I think the optimal information sharing strategy depends almost completely on the context and your goals.
    In social, non-work, person-to-person settings I prefer a high-risk, high-reward strategy, i.e. disclosing more personal stuff than most people and actively trying to initiate very intimate conversations.
    Obviously, some people are offended by this or think I’m weird (which I am), but those folks wouldn’t have become valuable friends or allies anyway. On the plus side, several people have told me that nobody knows them as well as I do, although we only have met a few times.
    In groups I’m not as aggressive but still try to steer the conversations into more intimate and interesting waters.

    If you need to interact with your conversation partners in the future or their level of sympathy must not fall below a certain level (coworkers, roommates, bosses, etc.) you obviously have to be way more careful.

    And romantic dates are a completely different matter. According to PUA-theory, friends’ and personal experience being aloof, confident, funny and sharing few personal details (remaining mysterious) are more effective in attracting most women than being intimate, at least in the first few dates. But don’t take my word for it, the whole issue is still unfathomable to me.

    Some more concrete strategies: If I meet a new person I’ll try to ask as soon as possible what their favorite books are. This way you can learn a lot about their personality without being too intrusive and it allows you to preselect fast (e.g. if she says “50 shades of grey” or “I don’t know, I don’t read much” you better run). OTOH, interesting conversations about your favorite books can easily follow. Asking about their dreams and goals is also a valuable strategy.

    Here are two posts about the topic with links to further ressources:

    Comment by wallowinmaya | May 11, 2013 | Reply

    • Good comment with interesting suggestions and links, even though the links weren’t of the kind I was thinking about.

      I think the value of an ‘ask X specific questions’-strategy or whatever is overstated, but that’s not to say that asking questions is not a very good idea. I know that you can obtain a lot of knowledge about an individual by asking relatively few questions as long as you ask the right questions; i.e. the questions the answers to which would be the most important to you if you happened to be doing a PCA. Considering how rarely I find myself in social situations in the first place I should probably focus a bit more on thinking beforehand about how to more efficiently ask questions when I in fact do find myself in such situations. Asking questions is one of the easiest ways to learn new stuff – it’d be nice if it’s also a useful strategy when making friends.

      I should point out that I’m very risk-averse (if you’ve read along for a while you already know that, but it’s your first comment so I don’t know for sure how long you’ve been reading along or how much of my stuff you’ve read) and so a high-risk/high-reward strategy is not particularly appealing to me. On the other hand I’m supposed to work towards becoming less risk-averse over time, and it seems to me that to get repeatedly rejected by potential friends would be less painful to endure than it would be to get repeatedly rejected by potential romantic partners. And I’d probably be doing more of the rejecting in the former case anyway.

      Comment by US | May 11, 2013 | Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: