January 6, 2009

The Ultimatum Game Is A Trap

Evolutionary psychology, at a newstand near you.

The Ultimatum Game:

One round only, and anonymously.  Player 1 is given a sum of money to divide between himself and the unknown Player 2.  Player 2 can either accept or reject the deal; no negotiation, no second chance.  If Player 2 rejects the deal, no one gets anything.

What's the right division?

Answer a:

Homo economicus, the self-preserving man, would attempt to maximize his gain.  For Player 1 that means offering Player 2 the least possible; for Player 2, it means accepting anything greater than zero, because anything is better than zero.

If we were all playing for monetary gain, then Player 1 would offer 99% for himself, and 1% for the other guy, because 1% is better than nothing to the other guy.

But this deal is usually rejected.  In fact, anything less than less than 30% is usually rejected.  So monetary gain isn't the only variable here-- people do not always choose for their best economic advantage.

Answer b:

The Economist, an excellent magazine which offers excellent analysis of complex political and economic questions, yet still manages to be on the wrong side of history every single time, explains the now accepted "evolutionary psychology" answer:

(from Darwinism: Why we are, as we are) What is curious about this game is that, in order to punish the first player for his selfishness, the second player has deliberately made himself worse off by not accepting the offer. Many evolutionary biologists feel that the sense of justice this illustrates, and the willingness of one player to punish the other, even at a cost to himself, are among the things that have allowed humans to become such a successful, collaborative species. In the small social world in which humans evolved, people dealt with the same neighbours over and over again. Punishing a cheat has desirable long-term consequences for the person doing the punishing, as well as for the wider group. In future, the cheat will either not deal with him or will do so more honestly. Evolution will favour the development of emotions that make such reactions automatic.

It takes less than a moment's thought to realize this is specious, not to mention wrong.  Why is the sacrifice an example of an evolved sense of justice or fairness, and not an example of unevolved envy?  Like a child who smashes the toy his brother got for Xmas? 

To illustrate this, let's make the pot $10 billion.  He keeps $9.99B for himself, $10M for you.  Now what? Obviously, you're taking the $10M, fairness, justice and Darwin be damned.

In fact, Player 2 will likely accept $10M no matter what Player 1 gets to keep, even approaching infinity.

Evidently,  what matters isn't the relative inequality of the deal, but rather how much money Player 2 gets.  If he's paid enough, he doesn't care how unfair the deal actually is.


The question then is: is my explanation right?


My counterexample is a trick, and I use it to show the complete and total impossibility of interpreting behavior from hypotheticals.  Hypotheticals measure identity-- who you think you are-- not who you actually are, which is your behavior.

I'm going to show you now how Player 2 would reject the $10M, consistently, as consistently as if he was offered $1 from a $100 pot.

If this experiment happened right now, in real life, the second person would more than likely refuse the $10M, because in real life there is a third person in the Game that we are not considering: the experimenter with the original pot of $10B.  If such a person has $10B laying around to do this trivial experiment, let alone the money he has to repeat the experiment on other people, then $10M isn't worth anything to anybody.

Don't frown; if this was simply a hypothetical question, then none of the dollar values have any meaning at all, especially at the point of large numbers (what's the hypothetical difference between $10B and $100M?)  You're simply asking people," what are your general beliefs about fairness?"   We all have a belief in our levels of bravery, honesty, greediness, which we will use to answer the questions.  At some big dollar value, we'll believe that it compensates us for our sense of injustice.  We're honest enough with ourselves to admit that we'd take the hypothetical $10M-- but that $10M is being compared to your ordinary economic world.  But in real life, you would still refuse the deal, because you'd be living in a world of hyperinflation.


What does this all mean?

It means the Ultimatum Game is not a question of behavioral economics, it is a magic trick.  Magic tricks play differently to different audiences, and you cannot generalize about how humans respond to this magic trick based on how it plays in Vegas.  Worse, you cannot generalize to humans based on how a group of people say they would hypothetically respond. 

The Ultimatum Game yields different results in different cultures (a Mongolian group and another using ethnic Russians (Tartars and Yakuts) group both reliably offered 50/50 splits; and the even rejected offers that were in their favor (e.g. 30/70.)).  Evolution wouldn't account for this.  Are Mongolians a more just people?  Do the Tartars have less envy?  Or do they suspect that any third person who has the power to set up such a Game should not be completely trusted?

Prior to being seated, subjects were handed a consent form and asked to read it. Our
subjects were loathe to sign anything. They were guaranteed anonymity and they did not
want to leave behind any signature that they felt could be turned over to authorities.

Meanwhile, the Machiguenga people along the Peruvian Amazon, when asked by the  experimenters to play "a fun game played for money"  were "eager to play."  They average offer was a 75/25 split, and almost no one rejected any offer, no matter how low.

The real question in the Game is whether it is worth it to you to play at all.  When you reject the offer, you don't get nothing, you are not back where you started, because there is a hidden cost in the act of playing the Game.  You'll never know what that cost is, and it will be different for everyone, and at different times.  Playing the Game hypothetically does not in any way reflect real Game play.

War is an Ultimatum Game, and winning may be losing and losing may be winning, and individual soldiers are all playing their own version, and anyway, imagining how brave you'll be in the thick of battle does not reassure me.

There's almost an Uncertainty Principle to this Game: observing it changes the outcome.  Or, more accurately, you can't know both the "real results" and the "real costs" at the same time.

Let us dispense with the belief that this Game has anything to do with evolutionary psychology, or much else.

(A follow up here.)


This is ridiculous.<p... (Below threshold)

January 7, 2009 1:02 AM | Posted by ItsTheWooo: | Reply

This is ridiculous.

You have defined "fairness" in terms that are irrelevant (on some absolute, logical scale that has no relevance to how humans really reason, and how we have evolved to reason). 10m from 10b may be "unfair" in some robotic, mathematic, autistic sense but it is entirely "fair" by the human definition of "fair".

When engaging in bartering, humans consider a deal "fair" if it meets these criteria:
1) does not significantly handicap either participant
2) allows both participants to mutually benefit and survive

So, if the pot is 10b, giving a share of 10m is accepted because 10m dollars meets these criteria. In the mathematic sense it is very unfair, but humans don't think like that.

Now, if the pot is smaller, and you offer your trade partner that same scrumpy 1%, you would be flagged a cheat and punished by rejection. Rightly so. Unless that 1% is a sum of money which is large enough to have your partner benefit in his life in a similar way as you will, you're a rotten cheat. You're handicapping your neighbor, you're hording power.

Part of the problem is humans do not have the mental machinery to process gross sums of wealth that are possible only in modern agricultural societies. So, we reason with crude measures of logic and fairness like "I benefit a lot, he benefits a lot". We don't have the mental capacity to really emotionally deal with a sum of capital and power like 10 billion dollars means in our society. If we did, our feudal-like power structures wouldn't exist, the deals would never get off the ground, slavery or working classes or peasant classes wouldn't have happened, because any attempt at amassing overlord-like degrees of wealth (dating back centuries ago) would be attacked like a threat of predation. No one but slavers/overlords benefit from the existence of slavers/overlords eh.

Which, by the way, relates to the fact that humans are not evolved to live in agricultural societies where we can control and produce ridiculous amounts of nutrition at will. Our brains cannot emotionally deal with the sort of things we have created, they are meant for hunter gatherer tribes where no one person will EVER have that much more than you.

All our brains know is this crude logic:
1) If I'm doing well in a deal, it is a fair deal.
2) If I am not doing well in a deal, examine if my partner is. 3) If my partner is doing about the same as I am, it is a fair deal.
4) If he is, and I am not, it is not fair.

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that being said, it's certa... (Below threshold)

January 7, 2009 2:22 AM | Posted by Aaron Davies: | Reply

that being said, it's certainly true that economists seem blind to the non-linear value of money an astonishing amount of time. i had a TA in my undergrad intro to econ class who simply couldn't understand why our reactions to "would you prefer $5 or a 50-50 chance at $10" and "would you prefer $500 or a 50-50 chance at $1000" were different.

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The theme I see here, is th... (Below threshold)

January 7, 2009 2:49 AM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

The theme I see here, is that a lot of beliefs are irrational, even if there are studies to back them up.

Studies are tools. Technology is a tool. People have the problems. Realising that a single person, or a group has the problem is tiring. It take so much time to change.

However, beliefs are incredibly motivational and studies are revered as gospel because that's the current trendy authority.

I don't have the time to be critical of everything and association wins out in the end : (

Ignorance is bliss.
Our society is not fit to be full of critical thinkers. It might just break and would certainly change.

So I vote that we passively shrink the population through a controlled disease and then I'll slowly to drug the next 3 generations into my idea of perfection...my idea of perfection which was created for my environment and not the one I made.
One second thought who says we need to shrink the population let's just singularity attack them by making them feel diseased...and ashamed for that...
ahh psychiatry is soooo inspiring for science fiction. :p


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@Aaron Davies: Your TA was ... (Below threshold)

January 7, 2009 6:03 AM | Posted by Lupin: | Reply

@Aaron Davies: Your TA was a true cretin who could not understand that expected utility and the utility derived from the expectation of a gamble wasn't the same thing. That, or he could not understand that people differ in their degrees of risk aversion.

The sad thing is that grad students who are on the low end of the talent distribution in economics department end up... in the policy world, affecting our lives. The good ones usually go into academia.

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@ItsTheWooo - Your 'crude l... (Below threshold)

January 7, 2009 7:16 AM | Posted, in reply to ItsTheWooo's comment, by Trei: | Reply

@ItsTheWooo - Your 'crude logic' is brilliant!

It's been such a long time since we discovered things like "emotions" and "bias", why are we so darn stubborn to pretend human nature should make sense in a mathematical way? why are we so willing to fool ourselves into believing it does?

Mr. Alone. You're not playing a fair game, are you?
You said the reasoning brakes down because of a third party (the person playing with the money), when in fact, you were bringing in a fourth player - the 'economy' - the context.
Now why would you think an ordinary person, given an unthinkable amount of money, would infer that the economy has collapsed (and the whole context is faulty)? Don't you watch TV? "Everything is possible"... We’re not trained to be aware of the context. Context who?

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Sorry, but you are wrong ab... (Below threshold)

January 7, 2009 7:46 AM | Posted by Una: | Reply

Sorry, but you are wrong about the cross-cultural differences. While there is some variation around the average response, the extreme ends of which you quote, the remarkable thing is how universal the result is. There is not one culture where the ultimatum game accords with standard economics, including the Machiguenga, who do in fact reject low offers, but have a somewhat greater tolerance for them. Furthermore, some variation in response does not refute evolved adaptation as the primary explanation, but only shows that there are other factors involved too.

Also of interest, Australian economist Lisa Cameron played the Ultimatum Game with stakes as high as three months income and got the standard result.

For more, take a look at "Basic Instincts" by Pete Lunn, which is non-technical and relates a whole range of behavioural economic findings to evolutionary theory.

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@Aaron Davies: Out of curio... (Below threshold)

January 7, 2009 9:28 AM | Posted by La BellaDonna: | Reply

@Aaron Davies: Out of curiousity, what WERE the results? I ask because my own response was the same to each: I'll take a bird in hand, thanks, rather than the chance at two in the bush. I'll take $5 OR $500, and say "thank you very kindly!" to the money. I get the impression that that may not have been the general response.

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Disagree. And it was on... (Below threshold)

January 7, 2009 10:18 AM | Posted, in reply to Una's comment, by Alone: | Reply

Disagree. And it was only a matter of time before Peter Lunn's name made it into this blog.

Homo economicus is an abstraction. No one on this planet believes people are rational and always try to maximize their economic gain. That the UG results do not show 99/1 is not surprising at all, because money isn't the only thing they're maximizing. How much is it worth to you to see your opponent suffer? For Americans it's 30%, apparently.

As Lunn often shows, people make economically irrational decisions all the time (buy brand Cheerios instead of generic, etc.) So there's no disagreement that homo economicus is out.

But Lunn makes the same mistake may others make-- he comes up with a specious explanation for why man isn't rational. He chooses all of the positives about human nature: fairness, justice, cooperation, etc. Maybe, but maybe not? Maybe fairness-- but maybe envy?

And the common explanation that "most people" agree to a 60/40 split is simply false. Most people in America, but not most people other places. (Not most people in other times, I'd wager.) Not when the sums are very very big or very very small. And not when you're being observed-- by point about the Tartars is, "who knows what they would have really picked if the game was set up by people they knew well, and there was zero chance of ever getting found out? And there was a famine that year? Or if the Ruble was devalued? Etc.

One final point that, when people look up the UG and find different results they get confused-- playing the game ONCE has very different outcome then playing it twenty times against the same opponent, in which learning becomes more relevant-- and the results do move to 60/40. The latter multiple version has greater applicability to ecomonomics, but the former (one round) is more relevant to explanations based on evolution. "Why did bunnies develop white coats?" "Well, some are black." Oh. Ok, why did bunnies develop white or black coats?" Well, some are red. And orange. And brown. And clear. Pretty soon, you're not explaining coat color, but why there is such variability in coat color. That's a different question.

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I'll take the freaking doll... (Below threshold)

January 7, 2009 12:20 PM | Posted by varangianguard: | Reply

I'll take the freaking dollar, then wait outside the Psych Building watching closely for a loobie with a big smile to walk out. Bam! $100. Easy money.

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Hm. I just finished reading... (Below threshold)

January 7, 2009 5:05 PM | Posted by 7ev: | Reply

Hm. I just finished reading a book that had a chapter on this subject. "Sway: the Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior". It even had similar, if not identical examples; though, the chapter was considerably longer than this article, obviously.

must be a fairly common observation.

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I think I understand (and e... (Below threshold)

January 7, 2009 9:20 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

I think I understand (and even empathize with) your hatred of junk science promoted by narcissistic academicians, but I also think you grossly underestimate the explanatory power of this paradigm. Una's and Itsthewoo's comments nicely sum it up why your argument does not hold water -those who are curious to learn more about the subject can also take a look at Matt Ridley's 'Origins of Virtue.' I, on the other hand, am much more interested in finding out what is fueling this particular bias of yours. I never thought you were one of those sworn enemies of evolutionary psychology, so, I am guessing there's something much more subtle in play here... What is it?

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Why is the sacrif... (Below threshold)

January 8, 2009 6:24 AM | Posted by SusanC: | Reply

Why is the sacrifice an example of an evolved sense of justice or fairness, and not an example of unevolved envy? Like a child who smashes the toy his brother got for Xmas?

Here, you seem to be using "evolved" as if it meant "morally superior", which is not how modern biologists usually think about evolution. A "card-carrying" evolutionary psychologist would probably say that traits we view as morally bad - like the envious child smashing their sibling's toys - are also the product of evolution.

(See also Nietzsche's Genealogy of Morals - "To breed an animal that is entitled to make promises—is that not precisely the paradoxical task nature has set itself where human beings are concerned?")

Alone's response: no, I mean evolved in the evolutionary sense-- why is it fairness that evolved, and not a basic unchanged envy? Or, is fairness something that evolves, but envy something that doesn't require evolution?

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No comment on the meat of t... (Below threshold)

January 8, 2009 11:17 AM | Posted by iwdw: | Reply

No comment on the meat of the post, but if you're writing a post about the dangers of Junk Science, please don't turn around use the term Uncertainty Principle in a nonsensical way. The uncertainty principle doesn't have anything to do with "measurement changing the results", or "not knowing both at the same time".

Short version: particles that resemble matter are an abstraction. If you have a particle formed of underlying fields that have resolved themselves into an object with a very tight probability distribution wrt position, then the particle will necessarily have a very loose probability distribution with respect to velocity.

Measurement doesn't change anything. The inaccuracy is part of how the particle "exists".

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more on that later. But... (Below threshold)

January 8, 2009 11:37 AM | Posted, in reply to Anonymous's comment, by Alone: | Reply

more on that later. But to the immediate point: one of the main points is that a sense of fairness evolved. If people only deal with others who are fair, then fairness becomes selected (or, not fairness dies out). This is why humans have evolved a sense of fairness.

But what this means is that fairness is innate. Really?

Second, the UG and PD all require multiple rounds of play in order for them to work. In order to get people to behave fairly, they have to either believe their identity will be known, or they must play several rounds, such that how they play in one will affect the outcome of other rounds (because people will remember.) Again, this is supposed to show a sense of innate, evolved, fairness, but what it could just as easily show is innate, evolved ability to remember other people's behaviors. It could very well be that we're not more fair than monkeys (innately), we are simply better at remembering, processing, playing games... and then we impose a sense of fairness on it, fairness which we learn in society.

Fairness to a baby is different than fairness to an adult, and it's different to a Tartar then to an American. Either this is all genetic fairness expressed differently, or fairness itself isn't genetic, and we really selected for a bunch of behaviors and cognitive models that allow us to impose our societal fairness. Slaves were fine for the Ancient Greeks, and 18th century America. Did we express genetic fairness differently? Oh, hold on a second-- why are Western standards of fairness the ones that evolved over millions of years? The 60/40 outcome isn't "fair" in a dynastic society, is it?

You can't extrapolate from individual traits to group traits. You can't extrapolate traits today to traits in all times. You can't extrapolate traits in this culture to traits in all cultures. You can't extrapolate individual traits to group traits across all times and all cultures.

I am absolutely willing to concede that the above is wrong, but so far I've seen no evidence that my explanation isn't as good as the evolved altruism version. As long as women can dye their hair, you're going to have a big problem proving to me hair color is the result of natural selection-- or are we at the end of history again? The end of the role of genetics in our lives?

Where is the evidence for the mechanism of natural selection in behavioral traits? I can show you actual genetic markers for traits, but I can't show evidence for selection. Did the thalassemias get selected under the pressure of malaria? (Yes.) So show me. Then how are you going to show me the selection of fairness?

All of this presupposes a very basic picture of genetics. One gene one trait, exons only. But there are a dozen genes operating on any given behavioral trait. We don't even know what introns do (true to form, scienticians say they do nothing.) You can show that individuals or groups possess a group of alleles, but it is very difficult to show that that pattern was selected for, and it is nigh impossible to show that a trait for which no one has shown any physical genetic material is selected for. What about epigenetics?

Again, maybe "fairness" is in fact the result of natural selection. But as of now, we have no evidence for it beyond seductive (to Western ears, remember) reasoning. Yet we proceed as if the story is finished. And then we make assumptions based on it. You know what it all gets you? Social darwinism. Don't you think we should probably get the facts straight before we start to make social and political judgments which are very likely to change every ten years?

It's a matter of seeing what you want to see, and the selfish gene model is so sexy it overwhelms the often simpler explanations of societal interactions, etc. If someone is going to convince me we are hard wired to be good, they're going to have to do better than Dawkins.

I should not have written this UG post without a prior one on the background, evolutionary psychology and its limitations, but it's hard to come up with 3 or so posts a week...if I can get myself to gether, I'll organize these thoughts into something more coherent and then we can try to figure out where my holes in logic or understanding are.

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LastPsych: You're one of th... (Below threshold)

January 8, 2009 12:34 PM | Posted by Professor Coldheart: | Reply

LastPsych: You're one of the few well-read people I follow who's at all critical of evolutionary psychology. I'm not sure I agree with your take, yet, but please keep at it. This is fascinating.

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From what I have read human... (Below threshold)

January 8, 2009 4:24 PM | Posted by Felan: | Reply

From what I have read human brains are structured to notice differences far more than value. Our physiology is even adapted to this reality, for example, our eyes are constantly shifting to change the signal to the brain.

Flip the question, would you offer the stranger only 0.01 billion and yourself 9.99 billion, knowing that whether or not the deal happens is entirely up to them? Would it be unfair for that person to refuse this offer?

You can pretend that as long as everyone benefits to some degree its fair, but the truth is that people will notice the difference far more than the benefit.

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Ahahahahaha! Anyone who be... (Below threshold)

January 8, 2009 4:36 PM | Posted by La BellaDonna: | Reply

Ahahahahaha! Anyone who believes in EITHER "innate fairness" or "evolutionary fairness" as a trait evolved in or exhibited by (at least) Westerners/Americans, has never talked to any group of married women who are mothers AND who work outside the home. The fathers who take an equal - or even 60/40 - part in childcare are far outnumbered, at least anecdotally, by the fathers who believe that they are entitled to relax after a day at the office, while the wife/mother does most of the housework AND most of the childcare - after HER day at the office. Any guy who's ever offered to "babysit" HIS OWN KIDS isn't actually participating in raising them.

Heh. That's the funniest thing I've read in a while. "Why is it fairness evolved?" Heh. Why don't you let us know when it HAS evolved?

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@La BellaDonna: most of us ... (Below threshold)

January 9, 2009 4:11 AM | Posted by Aaron Davies: | Reply

@La BellaDonna: most of us were happy to take the bet on the $5 vs $10, but would stick with the sure thing on the $500 vs $1000. the obvious answer is that the differences in utility between $0, $5, and $10 are negligible, even to the average college student, but not between $0, $500, and $1000.

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@la belladonna: i originall... (Below threshold)

January 9, 2009 4:13 AM | Posted by Anonymous Chauvinist: | Reply

@la belladonna: i originally discovered this blog courtesy of v at http://www.violentacres.com/. i strongly suggest you go read her archives until you get a grip on reality and understand that it's *your* fault that so many american men want asian wives.

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I take Answer B! Not specio... (Below threshold)

January 9, 2009 6:15 AM | Posted by Madonna: | Reply

I take Answer B! Not specious, but ideally right.

Only a few carry on their shoulders the "evolutionary gene" towards fairness -- fairness is valuable to the community, not necessarily to the individual.

Also, this scenario where player B takes the option as outlined by Answer B is extremely risky or even dangerous to the individual, which means if he looks forward to another round of game with player A -- then chances are nil that the economically efficient player A would again deal with player B who insists on a fair deal. Or, player A would see player B in a new light and deal more fairly with player B again: just the stuff of evolutionary psychology.

It takes less than a moment's thought to realize this is specious, not to mention wrong. Why is the sacrifice an example of an evolved sense of justice or fairness, and not an example of unevolved envy? Like a child who smashes the toy his brother got for Xmas

Wehehe, the example is so grossly inappropriate. LaBellaDonna's example is so apt. Housework and the other nitty gritty aspects of relationships evoke the thoughts in this post. LOL, women are so much evolved than men in terms of fairness/justice.

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The reason fairness, or a t... (Below threshold)

January 9, 2009 1:45 PM | Posted by ItsTheWooo: | Reply

The reason fairness, or a tendency to behave fairly might have evolved is as a way to cooperate with others in your social environment. Cooperation is essential to the success of the intelligent social human animal. Fairness as an emotional experience is the way it feels when cooperation is successful. It's a safe, calm and gratified feeling.

Envy, as far as I can see, is an emotion that is an accidental byproduct of an adaptive emotion (the way it feels when something is NOT fair). Envy is an illogical way of reacting to a status/situational problem.
When one experiences envy, no true unfairness has been committed, but the suffer of envy illogically processes his or her own misfortune (relative or absolute) as being the fault of the person targeted by envious feelings.

Narcissists and others with expansive/debilitated egos (e.g. psychopaths borderlines many psychotics) frequently experience envy because this state precludes unfairness as a general approach to dealing with others, and poverty of logic (if not a poverty of understanding logic and reality, there is always at very least a disregard for what is true or false or real). The narcissist, as a rule, is unable to be introspective and understand the true proportions / implications of behavior and relationships, so he is never able to accept personal responsibility or even come to neutrality with shortcomings. Simultaneously afflicted with an equally irrational belief he deserves every grandiose thing he wants without effort, he lives in a state of constant low grade envy, occasional ego rages, and fights a pervasive sense of emptiness/loneliness (where the ability to relate to other people in a human way should be). He has no ability to analyze behavior and understand why he does not have what he wants, AND his sights are ridiculously grandiose (unsatisfiable, really). Nothing is ever his fault.

I think envy is as "evolved" as narcissism is... it's a useless, maladaptive feeling. It exists only because it capitalizes off of mental processes that DO have evolutionary value (envy is what you experience when you have ego pathology, combined with the rational and adaptive unpleasant emotional response to the feeling of being cheated). Narcissism also capitalizes off of adaptive behaviors (self interest/concept above the interest of others; the tendency to fuse one's entire motivation and being with ideas and concepts, these are all adaptive behaviors... it only becomes pathological when other things are missing like the ability to feel like a real self, to relate the others, or the ability to remove self and have it stand alone without an image or a concept to make you real).

Unless you can propose a reason why there would be evolutionary pressure for people to feel envy, I'm forced to conclude it as accidental, unintended, a bastard of disordered ego/perceptions and actual adaptive responses.

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I suppose what matters is w... (Below threshold)

January 9, 2009 2:03 PM | Posted by ItsTheWooo: | Reply

I suppose what matters is whether or not the decisions made in dealings stem from "valid reactions to unfairness" (adaptive) or "illogical envious feelings" (which are not adaptive, but also possible).

Knowing what I know about people, and myself, I think it is far more likely that people are primarily considering their own potential gains/losses, and only secondarily considering the gains/losses of others. People accept a small percentage of a large sum because they gain a lot, thus perceive it as fair, even if the partner got a whole lot more. This is actually very strong evidence envy has little to do with anything. It is evidence that people emotionally experience the feeling of fairness as "profiting in a deal without breaking any rules".

People reject the same percentage of a small amount because they don't benefit and this is experienced as "being unfair". This suggests people emotionally process unfairness as "not profiting in a deal when someone profits more".

Like I said before, people don't think like robots or computers, "fairness" is an emotional experience and social behavior with utility in relationships... it's not hard logic. A lot of this behavior seems less mysterious or sinister if you imagine how things might be in a hunter gatherer tribe. This reasoning works very well then, when we're dealing with small amounts of wealth and only a few people.

We think what we think and do what we do because it works, or at least it worked during the period the genes that determine our nervous systems were selected for.

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You don't get nothing .... (Below threshold)

January 9, 2009 4:02 PM | Posted by Alishah Novin: | Reply

You don't get nothing ... ?

The real problem is the hypothetical. It's not a complete experiment - that is, because the game is hypothetical, the rules can change at any moment - as you showed in Answer B. Or rather, the rules don't change, but there is more uncovered.

Everyone, when faced with this game, will immediately consider other factors. How much money? How many experiments? Is there a "third person"? When the hypothetical question is given, I would assume that most people take it purely at face value. That is, in the situation of the world as it currently stands, if you were to be approached with the following offer, what would your response be?

And in this case, everyone has their own answer. The billionaire wouldn't care much for a few thousand, or even a million. The millionaire would care little for a few thousand, and so on. Also in this situation, proximity to person A matters as well. Studies have shown that people compare themselves most with those around them, and those who have a similar level of success. The results in which Person A is a lesser fortunate person, while Person B is well off would likely be drastically different than if Person A and Person B are relative equals.

As such, the the experiment/game has far too many variables for any conclusive statement to be made about the subjects.

However, it still allows you to infer a lot about a person, from their response - if you are able to grasp their view of their question, and all the hidden variables. You can infer how greedy, vengeful, selfless, fair, caring, someone is based on such a question, so I wouldn't discredit it as a whole.

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The reason everyone's talki... (Below threshold)

January 13, 2009 11:21 AM | Posted by spriteless: | Reply

The reason everyone's talking about the selfish gene is it's the first well though out reason for the human soul that doesn't involve a magic book. And it works. And while I wouldn't say your societal tenancies are pre-programmed, I would say that if humans hadn't evolved to be shapable to societies needs society wouldn't have been built... society evolved to fit our needs in just as ad-hok a manner.

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Why do bitches always wanna... (Below threshold)

January 15, 2009 6:31 PM | Posted by www: | Reply

Why do bitches always wanna talk about housework?

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@Cowardly Chauvinist: I rea... (Below threshold)

January 16, 2009 10:58 AM | Posted by La BellaDonna: | Reply

@Cowardly Chauvinist: I read Violent Acres too, you ignorant idiot. And if YOU think it's appropriate that two adults work full-time jobs, and only one adult - male OR female - should then take on the majority of the childcare and housecare, then it's obvious that the reason YOU, at least, think American men all want Asian brides - and not all of them do, in fact - is because you're too goddamned lazy to believe in a 50/50, or even 60/40, share of the work.

I have NO problem with SAHMs/SAHWs or SAHDs doing the majority of the work in the house. That IS an equitable split (or at least reasonably so); one partner in the field, one partner in the house. Two partners in the field, and only one doing work in the house? Not fair, not equitable, regardless of gender.

However, thank you for the momentary illusion of power! Power over SO MANY AMERICAN MEN! And it's all MY fault, MINE! Bwahahahah!

@www: The reason so many WOMEN talk about housework, is because unless you're living in a CAVE, men and women in this country generally live in houses - or at least, apartments - and it takes work to keep them up. And the work in the house/apartment is generally NOT divided equitably between two parties who both work outside that house. Moron. I'm not suggesting that men should do everything - that's not equitable either. Why is the suggestion of a moderately balanced split in work so scary to you? Because you don't want to do any of it? Because somehow a fair split DOESN'T seem fair to you?

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>>The Economist, an excelle... (Below threshold)

February 23, 2009 8:28 PM | Posted by Rich Hudson: | Reply

>>The Economist, an excellent magazine which offers excellent analysis of complex political and economic questions, yet still manages to be on the wrong side of history every single time

Great assessment of The Economist.

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I think that to receive the... (Below threshold)

July 7, 2011 8:11 AM | Posted by Elsie29SAMPSON: | Reply

I think that to receive the credit loans from creditors you must have a firm motivation. But, once I've received a car loan, because I was willing to buy a bike.

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[url=http://www.softassembl... (Below threshold)

March 19, 2014 7:19 PM | Posted by Sum-It-Up coupon: | Reply

[url=http://www.softassembly.com/Sum-It-Up.html]Sum-It-Up coupon[/url].

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I have not read all the abo... (Below threshold)

March 26, 2015 6:14 PM | Posted by Anonymous: | Reply

I have not read all the above comments , so forgive me if I m repeating part of the discussion. But has anyone wondered if the choice done by the second player could be some sort of interpretation of the value he thinks the other player perceives about him. And thus accepting the deal could be a matter of high /low self-opinion too, and not just about perceived gain/loss of some extrinsic sbstance that happens to meassure value (n a very broad sense)

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