Did Everyone Know This? The “Buy Me a Drink” Problem

Admittedly, this doesn’t really come up that much in my life- and I don’t even think it applies to Indian bars/dating scenes in general, but that’s a blind guess. But the example on this post took me a little by surprise. (The post is essentially on how high functioning people with Asperger’s need to compute social interactions “in software”, i.e. think through them manually and not rely on instinct. )

  • Cached answers – you can precompute the “right” responses to social situations. Probably the best example of this is the answer to the “buy me a drink” problem: you approach an attractive NT person who you might like as a future partner. After a short time, they ask you to buy them a drink. The logical answer to this question is “what kind of drink would you like?”, because in most social situations where you want to build up a positive relationship with a person, it is best to comply with their requests; not creating explicit conflict is usually a safe heuristic. But this is the wrong answer in this context, and you can store in your cache of counter-intuitive answers.
  • Scientific theories of social games – including game theory and especially signaling games, information economics and evolutionary psychology. Building on the “buy me a drink” problem, instead of simply storing the answer as an exception, you can use evolutionary psychology and information economics to see the underlying pattern so that you can correctly answer the “drink” problem and many other similar problems. The NT is using the drink request to solve a cheap talk problem – they don’t really want the drink, they want to know if you have higher dating market value than them, for example higher social status, income, success with other partners, etc. This is because evolutionary psychology makes some people want high-status people as partners. If they just asked you directly for these facts about yourself, you would have a strong incentive to lie. So they make a request that is somewhat rude, where only a lower-status suitor who thought they were worth “sucking up to” would comply, and then reject suitors who comply. This is really a kind of screening, where ability to give the “right” answer plays the role of a credential. Neurotypicals play some devious games, and this is actually quite a tame example.

NT, as you can guess from the quote, stands for neurotypical.

Is this such an obvious thing? I get how blatantly asking someone to buy you a drink is rather rude, but I didn’t really know the rest of it. I would have simply assumed that it would either show the relatively poor social skills of the person who’s asking, or alternately simply indicate that his/her society is more to the “Asker” side of the Asker/Guesser spectrum.

UPDATE: Apparently a lot of people at Less Wrong didn’t really get it, either. Although some people did. And from what I can guess, the people who do seem to have more experience in similar social contexts. So I still don’t really know. Anyone?


3 thoughts on “Did Everyone Know This? The “Buy Me a Drink” Problem

  1. Of course, I can’t talk for the American dating scene, but for me this sounds really, really, really weird. If I ask someone to buy me a drink (which I actually don’t think is automatically rude, though it can be, of course), it’s not screening for his eligibility. I’m asking whether that person wants to spend more time with me – at least the time it takes to have a drink together. If the other person would say no to that, I’d assume that they were not interested and move on.

  2. Ah. But you’ve just met this guy. Asking him to spend money on you is a little presumptive, no? I mean, if you wanted to spend time with someone you can always offer to buy them a drink 🙂 .

    • I’m not saying that there aren’t better alternatives than asking somebody else to buy you a drink. I just don’t think it’s _automatically_ offensive.

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