Character  &  Context

The Science of Who We Are and How We Relate
Editors: Mark Leary, Shira Gabriel, Brett Pelham
Apr 06, 2020

Repeating Yourself Is Viewed as Inauthentic

by Rosanna K. Smith and Rachel Gershon
Man giving presentation

Image by rawpixel.com

In a 2018 press tour of the newly released film, “A Star is Born,” Lady Gaga praised her co-star Bradley Cooper for his support of her, saying the following: “There can be 100 people in a room and 99 of them don’t believe in you, but all it takes is one” (ET Canada, 2018).

Later, when asked about her costar in another interview, Lady Gaga said the following of Bradley Cooper: “There can be 100 people in a room and 99 of them don’t believe in you, but all it takes is one.”

Then she said the same line at the next interview. And the next one. And the next. The internet then did what it does best, and the memes were born, all ridiculing Lady Gaga for repeating the same line.  

Why was Lady Gaga mocked for simply repeating herself? After all, a press tour involves answering the same questions across contexts, and creating new answers each time would be tiring, time-consuming, and possibly disingenuous. Indeed, actor Jonah Hill jumped to Gaga’s defense, stating “She did her damn job. How many ***damn things would she have to say about the same experience? That’s what you’re supposed to do, is really just repeat your message out” (Desta, 2018).

Of course, many professions—including politics, teaching, and comedy—require people to repeat themselves to different audiences. Politicians deliver the same stump speech to many crowds. Teachers often give the same lectures to different classes. Comedians perform the same routines to several audiences. Although self-repetition is common and often necessary, our research finds that people perceive those who engage in self-repetition as less authentic.

We found that repetition lowered perceived authenticity across ten experiments. For example, in one study, participants viewed comedian Aziz Ansari tell an amusing story, either watching one Youtube clip of Ansari telling the story or watching him tell the same story in two different contexts. When participants watched Ansari repeat the story, they judged him as less authentic and were less interested in buying a ticket to see a future performance, even if the performance would consist of new material!

What was most striking about these effects was that participants perceived performers to be inauthentic even when they knew that it was required or preferable that the performers repeat themselves. For instance, most of our participants acknowledged that tour guides are supposed to repeat themselves across tours, and yet, they still perceived a tour guide who repeated herself to be more inauthentic than a tour guide who was not viewed self-repeating. Even when participants were explicitly told that the tour guide was required to follow a script by the company, they still perceived the tour guide as less authentic if they saw her repeat herself.

What explains this irrational reaction to people who, in many cases, are just doing their job or simply repeating their own original material? We find evidence that this effect is driven by an unreasonable assumption that people tend to hold about their social interactions. People tend to assume that interactions—even those that are typically planned or repeated—are unique. Witnessing a self-repetition confronts people with the obvious fact that the original performance was not unique, and people feel deceived by the performer, leading them to view him or her as less authentic.

In fact, the only time participants did not view self-repeating performers as less authentic was when performers overtly acknowledged the self-repetition, such as prefacing their repetition with “As I always say…” or “Now for the joke I always tell.…” Moreover, performers who failed to acknowledge their self-repetition were penalized similarly to those who explicitly lied that the performance was unique.  Participants seemed to view an unacknowledged self-repetition as a lie by omission.

Performers from politicians to entertainers are increasingly aware of the downsides of having their performances recorded. Dave Chappelle has instituted a “no phone-zone” policy at his shows in part because his “well-honed material plummets in street value once it’s posted to YouTube” where it can be viewed multiple times (Abramovitch, 2015). The negative effect of self-repetition suggests that maintaining authenticity in an age of easily shareable and reproducible content is an increasing challenge.

However, our findings do provide a way for many professions to maintain authenticity with repetition. The straightforward solution is to simply acknowledge the repetition beforehand.


For Further Reading

Abramovitch, S. (2015, December). How Dave Chappelle is creating a "No-Phone Zone" for his Chicago shows. The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved from

hollywoodreporter.com/news/how-dave-chappelle-is-creating-844886

Desta, Y. (2018, December). Jonah Hill Avenges Lady Gaga After Viral “100 People in a Room.” Vanity Fair. Retrieved from https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2018/12/jonah-hill-lady-gaga-100-people-in-a-room

ET Canada (2018, October 25). Lady Gaga mocked for Bradley Cooper praise. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9OyigkGm1do

Gershon, R., & Smith, R. K. (2020). Twice-told tales: Self-repetition decreases observer assessments of performer authenticity. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 118(2), 307–324. https://doi.org/10.1037/pspi0000183

 

Rosanna K. Smith is an Assistant Professor of Marketing at the University of Georgia. Rachel Gershon is an Assistant Professor of Marketing at UC San Diego.

 

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Why is this blog called Character & Context?

Everything that people think, feel, and do is affected by some combination of their personal characteristics and features of the social context they are in at the time. Character & Context explores the latest insights about human behavior from research in personality and social psychology, the scientific field that studies the causes of everyday behaviors.  

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