Deliberation is staunchest ally of selfishness

April 23, 2014 by Bill Hathaway
Deliberation is staunchest ally of selfishness
Credit: Shutterstock

(Medical Xpress)—Over the last two years, Yale psychologist David Rand and colleagues have investigated what makes people willing to help each other. Their latest research shows that while initial reactions are shaped by daily experience, deliberation consistently favors selfishness.

In a new paper published online April 22 in the journal Nature Communications, Rand and collaborators at Yale and Harvard universities gave subjects money and asked them to choose how much to keep and how much to contribute to benefit their group. Half of the subjects were forced to respond quickly. Half were asked to think carefully before deciding.

"In the early studies, participants contributed much more when we made them rely on their intuitions," said Rand. "But as they gained more exposure to these kind of experiments, things changed."

Over time, participants' intuitions became increasingly . Decisions made after careful thought, however, stayed relatively selfish over the whole two-year period.

Rand and colleagues offer a theory to explain these results: For most people, cooperation is a winning strategy in daily life because selfish people get ostracized. These people tend to be intuitively cooperative. Deliberation, however, reins in these intuitions in different situations, such as interactions with strangers, and favors selfishness.

But people who have participated in many economic game experiments learn that their intuitions lead them astray, explain the researchers. Since these games are played with total strangers, players' intuitive choices tend to become more selfish. The same is likely true of exposure to real-world settings that reward selfishness, like being hired into a highly competitive business environment, or living in a country with a corrupt government, they say.

Even in our own daily lives, we can see effects like this, said Rand. "If someone you know asks for help, it's natural to agree, and the first time you meet a panhandler asking for change, it's the same—your instinct is to give. But soon enough, we get hardened, and our immediate response becomes 'No.'"

The findings illustrate that many of our social intuitions are malleable, not hard-wired by evolution, Rand added.

"We are shaped by our experiences, and so the social world we live in can have a profound effect on what comes naturally to us," he said.

Explore further: Study says people are inclined to help others

Related Stories

Gossip and ostracism may have hidden group benefits

January 27, 2014

Conventional wisdom holds that gossip and social exclusion are always malicious, undermining trust and morale in groups. But sharing this kind of "reputational information" could have benefits for society, according to a ...

Intuitive thinking may influence belief in God

September 20, 2011

Intuition may lead people toward a belief in the divine and help explain why some people have more faith in God than others, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.

Recommended for you

Study shows puberty changes facial recognition

September 28, 2016

Faces are as unique as fingerprints and can reveal a great deal of information about our health, personalities, age, and feelings. Penn State researchers recently discovered adolescents begin to view faces differently as ...

How much video gaming is too much for kids?

September 27, 2016

(HealthDay)—Playing video games might improve a child's motor skills, reaction time and even academic performance, but new research shows that too much gaming can be linked to social and behavioral problems.

Dogs ignore bad advice that humans follow

September 27, 2016

Dogs are less likely to follow bad advice than children, according to a new study conducted at the Canine Cognition Center at Yale. In contrast to children, dogs only copy a human's actions if they are absolutely necessary ...

How we handle objects depends on who owns them

September 27, 2016

From scissors and staplers to car keys and cell phones, we pass objects to other people every day. We often try to pass the objects so that the handle or other useful feature is facing the appropriate direction for the person ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.