The Greenfield Effect

reuben j. strayer


The Greenfield Effect is named for Lucas Greenfield, an old friend of mine. Lucas is full grown at about five foot two, and this has shaped his personality in dramatically bad ways. The first thing you think when you meet Lucas is, "Gosh, this guy is sure short."

There is no way that growing up and having that impression on everyone you meet will not basically affect how you perceive yourself and the world. Some short guys deal with it by pursuing athletics, I guess because that is virile enough to mitigate their feminine stature. In fact, the athletic endeavor most often pursued by short men is weightlifting, so that you don't need to be competing with him to know how virile he is when he bursts out of his too-small shirts. These men drive big trucks and drink lots of beer. Another way to handle shortmanness is to prove your validity by excelling at school (of course when I say "prove your validity" I mean prove your validity to yourself), hence all the short geniuses. A third way is to exert all your energy chasing women and thereby substantiate your self worth in the way of most taller men.

Lucas utilized none of these strategies and, as far as I can tell, did not come up with one of his own. As a result, he thinks very little of himself and has an unusually desperate thirst for the positive evaluation of others to fill his dry well of self-esteem. So thirsty is Lucas that no matter how impressive he may be he can never drink his fill of adulation, so what Lucas does and says is only and exactly what he thinks will garner your approval. He reliably lies, misleads, and acts to portray himself as more impressive than he is, obliterating whatever personality might be underneath.

While the psychology of being short is interesting in its own right, I describe my version of it here because it accounts for Lucas's behavior, which is fiercely annoying. I was fiercely annoyed by Lucas but often found myself in his company, and after a while I noticed it: It didn't matter what Lucas said or did, I was annoyed by it. I was annoyed by it not because what he said or did was inherently annoying, but because it was Lucas saying and doing.

What happened was that at some point I made an unconscious decision about Lucas, and that was that he is annoying. Not that he sometimes acts in an annoying way or that he is being annoying today but that he IS ANNOYING, period. I to a large degree closed my mind to revising my opinion of Lucas and thereby stopped hearing or seeing him. And that is the Greenfield Effect, it is closing the book on somebody so that your judgment is beyond amendment.

The Greenfield Effect is a common unconscious strategy in handling people, likely all of us have been on both ends of it. It is related to prejudice but it is not prejudice because the Greenfield Effector is not prejudging, rather she is not judging at all; she turns off judgment or really postjudges. As you acquaint yourself with a companion, prejudice wanes while the Greenfield Effect waxes. The result of both, however, is that insofar as you prejudge or postjudge, your companion's personality is less available to you.