Tahlequah Daily Press

Get the scoop!

September 21, 2012

Mulling over a decision makes people more selfish, study suggests

How cooperative you are may depend on how quick you are to respond to a proposition, a new study finds. In a computerized game that involves contributing money to a common pool, people who took longer to think over their options were more likely to be selfish.

The question of whether humans' automatic impulses are cooperative or selfish is "a basic question about human nature," says David Rand, a Harvard University behavioral scientist and lead author of the new study. Psychologists have long tried to understand why people cooperate and in which situations. For example, when people play games repeatedly, there's an incentive to play nice, because other people will catch on to whether you're cooperating. But, Rand says, no one had looked at whether cooperation is a quick, intuitive choice or something that comes from greater deliberation.

For the new study, the researchers used Amazon Mechanical Turk, a website where people can sign up to do small amounts of work for small amounts of money. It's used for tasks like tagging photographs and transcribing text, and social scientists use it to run experiments. "Particularly for this kind of study where you're trying to understand people's intuition, it's really valuable to have easy access to a pool of people who are not all college undergrads_the normal subject pool for psychology and econ experiments," Rand says.

In several experiments, people played a single round of a decision-making game used by psychologists and economists called the public goods game. Each person was placed in a group of four subjects and given 40 cents. Each subject was then asked how much he or she wanted to contribute to a common pool. The subject was told that whatever ended up in the pool would be doubled and then divided among the four players.

So if everyone contributed their full 40 cents, then every player would double his or her money. (Sweet!) However, the game can reward greediness over cooperation: If a player donates nothing while the other three chip in their full 40 cents, then the stingy player will receive 60 cents from the pool and end up with a dollar total. These scenarios were part of the instructions that the players read. Of course, if nobody contributed, all of the players end up with just the 40 cents they started with.

People who chose quickly contributed an average of about 27 cents, while people who decided slowly contributed an average of about 21 cents. In later experiments, the researchers instructed some people to decide within 10 seconds and others to wait at least 10 seconds, to give them time to think more carefully. The same thing happened; fast people contributed more than people who deliberated. The researchers even double checked the results with young people in the lab_the normal behavioral science setting_and found that while people in the lab gave less overall, deciding quickly still made them give more. The results of the researchers' 10 experiments are published online Wednesday in Nature.

The researchers conclude that people are more cooperative when they think quickly. Psychology research shows that the faster choice is the more intuitive choice. "If they stop and think about it, they realize, Oh, this is one of those situations where actually I can take advantage of the person and get away with it," Rand says. He thinks that teaching people to make decisions rationally could actually make them less likely to cooperate with others. For example, courses that train business executives to overcome their impulses might also make them greedier. "We should try and keep our eye out for situations where we feel an initial impulse to do good, but on further reflection, rationalize and say we don't have to," Rand says.

So is it really surprising that people's first reactions tend to be more cooperative? "I think whether or not it is surprising depends on your prior beliefs," says Daniel Kahneman, a Princeton University psychologist who won the Nobel Prize in economics in 2002. "If you believe that people are wild and selfish, and then there is an overlay of civilization on top of that impulse, then the result is surprising." Simon Gächter, an experimental economist at the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom, notes that reflection didn't lead to pure selfishness. "Even in the most reflective conditions, people contributed some amount to the group." He says this suggests that people have a lot of cooperation in them but that gut reaction even adds a bit more.

     

This is adapted from ScienceNOW, the online daily news service of the journal Science.

1
Text Only
Get the scoop!
  • treadmill-very-fast.jpg Tax deduction for a gym membership?

    April marks another tax season when millions of Americans will deduct expenses related to home ownership, children and education from their annual tax bill. These deductions exist because of their perceived value to society; they encourage behaviors that keep the wheels of the economy turning. So why shouldn't the tax code be revised to reward preventive health?

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • Victimized by the 'marriage penalty'

    In a few short months, I'll pass the milestone that every little girl dreams of: the day she swears - before family and God, in sickness and in health, all in the name of love - that she's willing to pay a much higher tax rate.

    April 15, 2014

  • Allergies are the real midlife crisis

    One of the biggest mysteries is why the disease comes and goes, and then comes and goes again. People tend to experience intense allergies between the ages of 5 and 16, then get a couple of decades off before the symptoms return in the 30s, only to diminish around retirement age.

    April 15, 2014

  • E-Cigarettes target youth with festivals, lawmakers say

    The findings, in a survey released Monday by members of Congress, should prod U.S. regulators to curb the industry, the lawmakers said. While e-cigarettes currently are unregulated, the Food and Drug Administration is working on a plan that would extend its tobacco oversight to the products.

    April 14, 2014

  • Search teams will send unmanned sub to look for missing Malaysian airliner

    Teams searching for a missing Malaysian airliner are planning for the first time to send an unmanned submarine into the depths of the Indian Ocean to look for wreckage, an Australian official leading the multi-nation search said Monday.

    April 14, 2014

  • Why Facebook is getting into the banking game

    Who would want to use Facebook as a bank? That's the question that immediately arises from news that the social network intends to get into the electronic money business.

    April 14, 2014

  • Cherokee Nation launches online art database

    Cherokee Nation officials have launched a new website providing the public access to information regarding art owned by the tribe and its businesses.
    “We have hundreds of traditional and modern works of art in our collection across the Cherokee Nation’s governmental and businesses facilities,” said Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker. “This expanded database is a significant accomplishment and now makes our art collection more accessible for various audiences, including artists, enthusiasts and tribal citizens.”

    April 14, 2014

  • mfp file Hoffner Fired coach unjustly accused of visiting porn sites

    The president of Minnesota State University-Mankato accused a football coach of looking at Internet porn on a work computer before firing him, an arbitrator has revealed. The official said the claim could not be supported, and the coach shouldn't have been fired.

    April 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • Stepping forward: The real Colbert

    Letterman changed the late-night TV game between his run on NBC's "Late Night" and starting the "Late Show" franchise in 1993. And while it's tough to replace a pop-culture icon, Colbert, in terms of pedigree and sense of humor, makes the most sense.

    April 11, 2014

  • Millions of Android phones, tablets vulnerable to Heartbleed bug

    Millions of smartphones and tablets running Google's Android operating system have the Heartbleed software bug, in a sign of how broadly the flaw extends beyond the Web and into consumer devices.

    April 11, 2014

  • taylor.armerding.jpg Obama's equal pay exaggeration leads us all into danger

    The president's claims of national shame over gender-based pay inequity spring from distorted calculations, as well as some convenient political math.

    April 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • mfp file Hoffner Big win for college coach wrongly accused of child porn

    The ex-coach of Minnesota State University-Mankato - cleared on child porn charges - gets his old job back or could take the difference in pay should he decide to stay in a new position in North Dakota, an arbitrator has ruled. Todd Hoffner was accused when a technician found videos of his young children on his school-issued cellphone. Officials in Mankato fired him even though a judge had thrown out the charges.

    April 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • Boston doctors can now prescribe you a bike

    The City of Boston this week is rolling out a new program that's whimsically known as "Prescribe-a-Bike." Part medicine, part welfare, the initiative allows doctors at Boston Medical Center to write "prescriptions" for low-income patients to get yearlong memberships to Hubway, the city's bike-share system, for only $5.

    April 10, 2014

  • Lindley, Tom.jpg Too much of a good thing at UConn?

    The Connecticut Huskies dominate women's college basketball - which makes for a boring game.

    April 10, 2014 1 Photo

  • Teens trading naked selfies for mugshots

    Will teenagers ever learn? You think yours will. Maybe so. But it's likely that was also the hope of the parents of children who were so shamed by nude photos of themselves that went south - how else can they go - that they killed themselves.

    April 10, 2014

Poll

What to you think of a state Legislature proposal to forbid cities from raising the minimum wage? Choose the closest to your opinion.

The federal government should set the minimum wage across the board.
States should be allowed to raise their minimum wages, but not cities.
Both states and cities should be allowed to raise their minimum wages.
Cities should be allowed to raise their mimum wages, but not states.
There should be no minimum wage at all.
Undecided.
     View Results
Tahlequah Daily Press Twitter
Follow us on twitter
AP Video
Stocks