Rationality Around the World

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Two staples of experimental economics are the "dictator game" and the "ultimatum game," in which players acting under slightly different rules split a pot of cash. It's long been known that the behavior of your average grad student in these games is more complex than the most stripped down neoclassical model would predict. Now this article sums up some results from runs of the games across different cultures, and finds high levels of local variation. Our own Ron Bailey wrote about another cross-cultural study using these games back in 2002.

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  1. Gary:

    ""Evolution provides a psychology of self interested motivation."

    Evolution doesn't provide squat; its not a conscious being directed towards some goal."

    You are reading in more than is there, either out of frustration with societal ignorance about evolution in general or just to be a pain. "My car provides me an excellent way to get to work," does not imply that I think my car is sentient.

    I meant here that self interested psychologies had more offspring that lived to maturity during the very long period of time when homo sapiens' higher brain functions were being selected for to any great degree. Yes, I know that in a different environment things could have been different. Yes, I know that evolution does not 'strive' for intelligence or anything else.

  2. Jason Ligon,

    My apologies. Yes, my thoughts around societal ignorance vis a vis evolution.

  3. Evolution provides a psychology of self interested motivation. Reason allows one to weigh likely outcomes in light of one's self interest. Societal norms dictate some of those outcomes.

    Why would anyone suspect that people would all play the game the same way, even in persuit of their self interest?

    These games may be played only once, but they are part of the big iterative game of social interaction - especially if there are substantial rewards at stake.

    I wonder what would happen if the recipient of the reward were given some task to complete so that he earned the reward in some way. Would rejection rates go down on low offers?

  4. I know in U.S. experiments, at least, when the player making the offer is determined not randomly, but by a brief trivia contest, people are indeed willing to accept much lower offers, presumably on the grounds that the offerer has "earned" her allocation.

  5. "Our own Ron Bailey's wrote about another cross-cultural study using these games back in 2002."

    Something about that sentence doesn't look
    right. 🙂

    Jason Ligon,

    "Evolution provides a psychology of self interested motivation."

    Evolution doesn't provide squat; its not a conscious being directed towards some goal.

  6. Strange that economics is still viewed by many as entirely about money. I learned in undergrad (mid-80's) that it was about making decisions that "maximize your happiness." Money is part of that mix but that will vary by individual.

    In grad school (late-80's) I heard a convincing arguement that culture was, in fact, a very good but lagging indicator of the economic realities of a given environment.

    Variation in the results in not surprising, just the ignorance of the researchers with regard to their subjects. If they scratched the surface a bit they would probably find that players were certainly acting in their self interest as defined by their current or past economic environment.

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