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!
  • Hospitals let patients schedule ER visits

    Three times within a week, 34-year-old Michael Granillo went to the emergency room at Northridge Hospital Medical Center in Los Angeles because of intense back pain. Each time, Granillo, who didn't have insurance, stayed for less than an hour before leaving without being seen by a doctor.

    July 21, 2014

  • Starved Pennsylvania 7-year-old weighed only 25 pounds

    A 7-year-old Pennsylvania boy authorities described as being so underweight he looked like a human skeleton has been released from the hospital.

    July 21, 2014

  • Sparring justices find little disagreement at the opera

    Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg revealed a different view of U.S. Supreme Court on Saturday when she described about her passion for opera, one she shares with Justice Antonin Scalia.

    July 21, 2014

  • Malaysians wonder 'Why us?' after second loss of airline jet

    It was all too familiar. Grieving families rushing to airport. The flashing television graphics of a plane's last radar appearance. The uncomfortable officials before a heavy thicket of microphones.
    For many Malaysians, the disappearance of Flight 370 in March has been a long trauma from which the nation has not yet recovered.

    July 18, 2014

  • Your chocolate addiction is only going to get more expensive

    For nearly two years, cocoa prices have been on the rise. Finally, that's affecting the price you pay for a bar of chocolate - and there's reason to believe it's only the beginning.

    July 18, 2014

  • A quarter of the world's most educated people live in the 100 largest cities

    College graduates are increasingly sorting themselves into high-cost, high-amenity cities such as Washington, New York, Boston and San Francisco, a phenomenon that threatens to segregate us across the country by education.

    July 18, 2014

  • The terrible history of passenger planes getting shot out of the sky

    What is more clear is that, if initial reports are true, this would be the deadliest incident of a civilian passenger plane being shot down in modern memory. In some instances, the causes of the disaster are still shrouded in mystery. Here are some of the worst events.

    July 17, 2014

  • Facebook tests button to let people shop from its website

    Members on desktop computers or mobile devices can click a "buy" button to make purchases through advertisements or other posts on the world's largest social network, the Menlo Park, California-based company said Thursday in a blog post.

    July 17, 2014

  • 130408_NT_BEA_good kids We're raising a generation of timid kids

    A week ago, a woman was charged with leaving her child in the car while she went into a store. Her 11-year-old child. This week, a woman was arrested for allowing her 9-year-old daughter to go to the park alone. Which raises just one question: America, what the heck is wrong with you?

    July 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • web_starbucks-cof_big_ce.jpg Starbucks sees more Apple-like stores after Colombia debut

    This week Starbucks opened its first location in Colombia — a 2,700-square-foot store with a heated patio, concrete columns, mirrors on the ceiling and walls of colorful plants.

    July 17, 2014 1 Photo

  • Screen Shot 2014-07-16 at 2.12.33 PM.png Gunshots narrowly miss TV reporter

    A reporter for a West Virginia television station narrowly escaped injury or worse Monday while covering a fatal weekend shooting in Beckley.

    July 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • 20110929_bowling.jpg Why fewer people go bowling

    Like other industries facing tough economic times, America's bowling centers are trying to reinvent themselves.

    July 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • When your doctor commits suicide, things get complicated

    When they call for appointments, patients are told they can't see their doctor. Ever. The standard line: "We are sorry, but your doctor died suddenly."

    July 15, 2014

  • Almost half of the world actually prefers instant coffee

    Americans' taste in coffee might be getting more high-end _with a growing fixation on perfectly roasted beans, pricier caffeinated concoctions, and artisan coffee brewers - but it turns out a surprisingly big part of the world is going in the opposite direction: toward instant coffee.

    July 14, 2014

  • An alternative diagnosis to ADHD: Schoolchildren need more time to move

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tells us that in recent years, there has been a jump in the percentage of young people diagnosed with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder, commonly known as ADHD: 7.8 percent in 2003 to 9.5 percent in 2007 to 11 percent in 2011.

    July 14, 2014

Poll

Do you believe marijuana should be legalized in Oklahoma?

Absolutely not.
No, but it should be decriminalized.
Yes, but only for medicinal purposes.
Yes, both for medicinal and recreational purposes.
Undecided.
     View Results
Tahlequah Daily Press Twitter
Follow us on twitter
AP Video
Raw: Israel Bombs Multiple Targets in Gaza Veteran Creates Job During High Unemployment Raw: Cargo Craft Undocks From Space Station Widow: Jury Sent Big Tobacco a $23B Message New Orleans Plans to Recycle Cigarette Butts UN Security Council Calls for MH 17 Crash Probe Obama Bestows Medal of Honor on NH Veteran Texas Sending National Guard Troops to Border Hopkins to Pay $190M After Pelvic Exams Taped Foxx Cites Washington 'Circus Mirror' NASA Ceremony Honors Moon Walker Neil Armstrong Obama Voices Concern About Casualties in Mideast Diplomacy Intensifies Amid Mounting Gaza Toll AP Exclusive: American Beaten in Israel Speaks Obama Protects Gay, Transgender Workers Raw: Gaza Rescuers Search Rubble for Survivors Raw: International Team Inspects MH17 Bodies Raw: 25 Family Members Killed in Gaza Airstrike US Teen Beaten in Mideast Talks About Ordeal 'Weird Al' Is Wowed by Album's Success
Stocks