Day 94: The stranger-danger bias

"Aren't you afraid?" This is one of the most common questions I get. Same thing this afternoon when I was interviewed by Radio Lidingö (we had decided to to a one hour program, but they had so many interesting questions that we recorded a second hour right away; hopefully they will make a podcast of it for any interested Swedish readers), one of the hosts asked me this question.

The answer is no. I think partly because I'm not that kind of person. But also because the rating systems of platforms like Airbnb helps building trust between people.

There is an interesting TED talk with Joe Gebbia, co-founder of Airbnb, about this, where he talks about how the design of the platform enhances trust between people.

He talks about what he calls "the stranger-danger bias", and how we as kids learn how to associate strangers with danger. Even though, I'd say, 99.99 percent of all strangers are decent people, just like you and me. (I've written about this here.)

But by designing the review system right Airbnb helps people overcome this bias. When you know something about the person requesting to stay in your home they're not considered as strangers anymore.

Particularly interesting I found a joint study of Stanford and Airbnb, that Gebbia mentions. Usually we are more prone to trust people that are more like us (nationality, age etc). But when people have more than ten review this difference disappears. "High reputation beats high similarity", as Gebbia puts it. 

This is also related to a question I got a few days ago when talking about this to the conservative party group in the Stockholm city council. In Sweden we have laws against discrimination. As a shop owner you are not allowed to say no to customers because of their ethnicity or religion for example. But what happens if business moves to peoples homes - won't this open up for more discrimination?

Personally, I think people should have the right to decide who to let into their home. Even if they have stupid reasons for their choice.

But the Stanford study suggests that in general it doesn't have to mean that peer-to-peer services strengthens biases that are already there and that people will choose to only provide services to people who are like them. On the contrary, it seems as if the reputation systems help us overcome some of our inherent discriminatory tendencies. That's really cool! And, I guess it could also affect the way we act in the society in general. If we overcome the stranger-danger bias and meet more people who are not like us, and see that they can be trusted too, we are probably more open to people different from ourselves in other situations as well.