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

Study says people are inclined to help others

September 25, 2012
Feeling generous? Think it over a little and then see how you feel.

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 examines effects of stopping psychiatric medication

July 20, 2017
Despite numerous obstacles and severe withdrawal effects, long-term users of psychiatric drugs can stop taking them if they choose, and mental health care professionals could be more helpful to such individuals, according ...

Study finds gene variant increases risk for depression

July 20, 2017
A University of Central Florida study has found that a gene variant, thought to be carried by nearly 25 percent of the population, increases the odds of developing depression.

In making decisions, are you an ant or a grasshopper?

July 20, 2017
In one of Aesop's famous fables, we are introduced to the grasshopper and the ant, whose decisions about how to spend their time affect their lives and future. The jovial grasshopper has a blast all summer singing and playing, ...

Perceiving oneself as less physically active than peers is linked to a shorter lifespan

July 20, 2017
Would you say that you are physically more active, less active, or about equally active as other people your age?

Old antibiotic could form new depression treatment

July 19, 2017
An antibiotic used mostly to treat acne has been found to improve the quality of life for people with major depression, in a world-first clinical trial conducted at Deakin University.

New study suggests that reduced insurance coverage for mental health treatment increases costs for the seriously ill

July 19, 2017
Higher out-of-pocket costs for mental health care could have the unintended consequence of increasing the use of acute and involuntary mental health care among those suffering from the most debilitating disorders, a Harvard ...

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.