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I'm having a hard time phrasing my question into words, so I'll provide an example:

Imagine you ask someone how much it'll take to eat a worm. The person says they would eat a worm for \$20. Instead of offering \$20, you offer 1 dollar less. Reluctantly, they say yes to \$19. You proceed to offer 1 dollar less so on and so forth. Eventually the reward money draws close to \$0 and we're left with a bizarre situation.

Is there a name for this phenomenon or am I totally bananas?

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  • $\begingroup$ What do you mean by "bizarre situation"? Eventually you (should) end up with an amount close to the individual's payoffs, the discomfort of eating a worm measured against the amount of money they earn from the action. $\endgroup$ – IQAndreas Mar 16 '15 at 3:42
  • $\begingroup$ (on the other hand, I could be wrong; human reasoning and decision making doesn't always choose the "game-theoretical perfect" solution) $\endgroup$ – IQAndreas Mar 16 '15 at 3:45
  • $\begingroup$ "Bizarre" probably refers to the fact that the person will eat the worm for a small amount of money only because the incentive has diminished gradually. If one would have started with the small amount, the person might have declined. It has some similarity to the "boiling frog" (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boiling_frog) and "slippery slopes" metaphors, and to the bait-and-switch-tactic in persuasion. $\endgroup$ – user7759 Mar 16 '15 at 10:59
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not sure this is a good example, I think the worm eater would quite quickly understand what you are doing and have no interest in playing along. $\endgroup$ – Alex Mar 16 '15 at 11:20
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, @MaríaAnt. I think the Boiling Frog is spot on. That led me to the Sorites paradox, which I have also heard as The Ship of Theseus. To elaborate more on my question: Suppose the person stated their bottom dollar to eat a worm is \$10.00. However, being offered \$9.99 instead and they agree to the terms, this negates their bottom dollar. Perhaps it's a question of boundaries and stubbornness. $\endgroup$ – Mark Sands Mar 16 '15 at 16:29
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The answer I was searching for is Creeping Normality. It fits better examples and has a clearer definition for what I was attempting to express.

Creeping normality refers to the way a major change can be accepted as the normal situation if it happens slowly, in unnoticed increments, when it would be regarded as objectionable if it took place in a single step or short period.

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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for providing the answer to your question (an underappreciated practice). You should remember to accept your answer. $\endgroup$ – Christian Hummeluhr Mar 18 '15 at 10:20

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