Looking out for #1 can make you happy, if you have no choice
(Medical Xpress)—We are, at our core, social creatures and we spend considerable time and effort on building and maintaining our relationships with others. As young children, we're taught that "sharing means caring" and, as we mature, we learn to take others' point of view. If we make a decision that favors self-interest, we often feel guilt for prioritizing ourselves over others.
In prioritizing others, however, we sometimes forego the things that we know will make us happy. This raises an intriguing question: Is there any way to pursue self-interest without feeling bad about it? Can we have the proverbial cake and it eat it, too?
Psychological scientists Jonathan Berman and Deborah Small of The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania speculated that removing individuals' sense of agency would remove their feeling of responsibility for an outcome, leaving them free to enjoy self-interest without feeling selfish.
In their first study, Berman and Small recruited 216 undergraduates to participate in a laboratory study. Upon arriving, each participant was given a bonus of $3. Some of the participants were told to donate their $3 to the non-profit charity UNICEF (imposed-charity condition), some participants were told to keep the money for themselves (imposed-self-interest condition), and some participants were told that they could choose what to do with the money (choice condition).
Just as the researchers hypothesized, those students who were told to keep the money for themselves reported being happier with the outcome than those who were told to donate the money to charity and those who were free to choose.
"Often people really want to act in a selfish manner," Berman says. "But they don't do so, because they know they would feel selfish if they did."
Berman and Small speculated that the students were happier specifically because they didn't have to choose between the self and others. But it's possible that they also could have been happier because there was no choice at all, so the researchers decided to conduct a second experiment. This time, all of the participants had to choose between two options. Participants in the mixed choice group had to choose between receiving a $5 gift card for themselves and donating the $5 to a charity. Participants in the self-interest choice group had to choose between a $5 gift card from Au Bon Pain and a $5 gift card from Starbucks. And participants in the prosocial choice group had to choose between a $5 donation to the Red Cross and a $5 donation to UNICEF.
The participants in the self-interest group, who could only choose between options that would benefit themselves, reported being the happiest. These findings confirm that it's specifically the conflict between self and others that reduces happiness, not the mere presence of a choice.
To eliminate the possibility that the participants' preferences might be influencing the results, the researchers conducted a third study in which they specifically manipulated the participants' sense of agency. All participants were first asked to say whether they would prefer to keep or donate bonus money. They were then randomly assigned to one of two groups – the first group was told that they would receive their preference, while the second group was told that a computer choose for them. In reality, all participants received their preference. This manipulation ensured that the only difference between the groups was whether the participants believed that they were responsible for the outcome (or that the computer made the decision for them).
Of those participants that preferred to keep the bonus money – the self-interested outcome – the participants who believed that the computer made the choice felt better than those who believed that they had made the choice, even though all of the participants had originally said that they would prefer to keep the money.
Among those who preferred to donate the bonus money – the prosocial option – the participants who thought that the computer made the choice didn't feel significantly better or worse that than those who thought they had made the choice.
Together, these three studies show that people are happier when a self-benefiting option is imposed upon them because it frees them from having to take responsibility for the outcome.
Of course, that doesn't mean we necessarily recognize the value of having our options constrained in this way.
When Berman and Small asked another group of students which condition they would prefer hypothetically – imposed self-interest, imposed charity, or choice – 63.6% said that they would prefer to have a choice. So, having the freedom to choose between various options is important, but it doesn't ultimately make us happier.
Journal reference: Psychological Science
Provided by Association for Psychological Science
- Our preferences change to reflect the choices we make, even three years later Oct 03, 2012 | not rated yet | 0
- Decisions, decisions: Feedback influences decision making Nov 12, 2008 | not rated yet | 0
- Study finds we choose money over happiness Sep 19, 2011 | not rated yet | 0
- Why making our own choices is more satisfying when pleasure is the goal Aug 24, 2010 | not rated yet | 0
- Finding it difficult to make a purchase? Try creating some distance from the problem Feb 14, 2012 | not rated yet | 0
- Motion perception revisited: High Phi effect challenges established motion perception assumptions Apr 23, 2013 | 3 / 5 (2) | 2
- Anything you can do I can do better: Neuromolecular foundations of the superiority illusion (Update) Apr 02, 2013 | 4.5 / 5 (11) | 5
- The visual system as economist: Neural resource allocation in visual adaptation Mar 30, 2013 | 5 / 5 (2) | 9
- Separate lives: Neuronal and organismal lifespans decoupled Mar 27, 2013 | 4.9 / 5 (8) | 0
- Sizing things up: The evolutionary neurobiology of scale invariance Feb 28, 2013 | 4.8 / 5 (10) | 14
Why is zone 1 in liver more prone to ischemic injury?
May 23, 2013 Hi, Is it because around central vein, there is only deoxygenated blood from the vein where as in the periphery there is hepatic artery. Also why...
How can there be villous adenoma in colon, if there are no villi there
May 22, 2013 As title suggest. Thanks :smile:
How can there be a term called "intestinal metaplasia" of stomach
May 21, 2013 Hello everyone, Ok Stomach's normal epithelium is simple columnar, now in intestinal type of adenocarcinoma of stomach it undergoes "intestinal...
Pressure-volume curve: Elastic Recoil Pressure don't make sense
May 18, 2013 From pressure-volume curve of the lung and chest wall (attached photo), I don't understand why would the elastic recoil pressure of the lung is...
If you became brain-dead, would you want them to pull the plug?
May 17, 2013 I'd want the rest of me to stay alive. Sure it's a lousy way to live but it beats being all-the-way dead. Maybe if I make it 20 years they'll...
MRI bill question
May 15, 2013 Dear PFers, The hospital gave us a $12k bill for one MRI (head with contrast). The people I talked to at the hospital tell me that they do not...
- More from Physics Forums - Medical Sciences
More news stories
(HealthDay)—We've all seen them: the surfers who race to the beach when a hurricane hits, the guy who decides to ride out the storm in his overmatched boat, the tornado chasers who fearlessly steer their ...
Psychology & Psychiatry May 24, 2013 | not rated yet | 0
Women at a particular stage in their monthly menstrual cycle may be more vulnerable to some of the psychological side-effects associated with stressful experiences, according to a study from UCL.
Psychology & Psychiatry May 24, 2013 | 4 / 5 (4) | 4 |
Ernie Pyle – an iconic war correspondent in World War II – reportedly said "There are no atheists in foxholes." A new joint study between two brothers at Cornell and Virginia Wesleyan found that only ...
Psychology & Psychiatry May 24, 2013 | 2.5 / 5 (4) | 2
(Medical Xpress)—Research by Stanford scholar Emma Seppala at the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education found that post-traumatic stress disorder decreased in veterans who participated ...
Psychology & Psychiatry May 24, 2013 | 5 / 5 (1) | 1
(Medical Xpress)—Patients with diabetes who are depressed are much more likely to develop episodes of dangerously low blood sugars, or hypoglycemia, than are those who are not depressed, a new study has ...
Psychology & Psychiatry May 24, 2013 | not rated yet | 0 |
Coenzyme Q10 decreases all cause mortality by half, according to the results of a multicentre randomised double blind trial presented today at Heart Failure 2013 congress. It is the first drug to improve heart failure mortality ...
12 hours ago | 5 / 5 (2) | 5
(HealthDay)—Animals make great companions for senior citizens, but elderly people who always drive with a pet in the car are far more likely to crash than those who never drive with a pet, researchers have ...
4 hours ago | not rated yet | 0
Heart failure accelerates the aging process and brings on early andropausal syndrome (AS), according to research presented today at the Heart Failure Congress 2013. AS, also referred to as male 'menopause', was four times ...
12 hours ago | not rated yet | 1
Mortality and length of stay are highest in heart failure patients admitted in January, on Friday, and overnight, according to research presented today at the Heart Failure Congress 2013. The analysis of nearly 1 million ...
12 hours ago | not rated yet | 0
(AP)—Department of Justice lawyers have again asked a federal appeals court in New York to delay lifting age restrictions and prescription requirements on an emergency contraceptive popularly known as the morning-after ...
12 hours ago | not rated yet | 0