Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Level-headed: Economics experiment finds taste for equality

13.04.2007
The rich don't get richer -- at least not in laboratory games. According to a new study of behavioral economics, published in the April 12, 2007 issue of Nature, people will spend their own money to make the rich less rich and the poor less poor. They do so without any hope of personal gain, acting, it seems, out of a taste for equality and sense of fair play.

Earlier research has demonstrated that people are willing to incur costs to punish and reward others, especially in scenarios where every player's contribution to a common pool results in greater benefits for all. But in those cases it is hard to tell whether the actions are motivated by egalitarian preferences for similar income levels or a desire to enforce norms and encourage group cooperation.

So James Fowler, associate professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego, doctoral student Christopher Dawes and their coauthors set up a game to see if there's a drive for equality.

The results suggest that a form of material egalitarianism is more than just a long-held ideal of utopian philosophers and political theorists. With not only self-interest but also group cooperation removed as factors, people still, at a cost to themselves, gave money to the poorest players and took it away from the richest.

Fowler and colleagues believe that their experiment shows that egalitarian motives, to some extent, underlie the evolution of cooperation and reciprocity in humans.

"One of the reasons we cooperate may be because we care about equality," Fowler said.

Real-world analogues for egalitarian preferences, said Fowler, can be seen in the wide acceptance of a progressive tax and a social welfare net.

"If people didn't have a taste for equality, then I would expect the world would be even more unequal than it is," he said. "It has not been fully appreciated yet how much people are willing to level the playing field and how much this determines our ability to cooperate with each other."

A total of 120 volunteers took part in the experiment over six sessions, playing the game five times in groups of four. Group composition changed with each game and players' game histories did not follow them. In other words, reputation and retribution were not allowed to play a role.

Participants were randomly allocated different sums of money. They were shown what each player got and presented with a choice to do nothing and maintain the (unequal) status quo or to reduce their own real takeaway pay by one monetary unit in order to either increase or reduce another player's income by three units. Outcomes of each game were then displayed.

In all, income alteration was frequent: About three-quarters of participants reduced or increased another player's income at least once and about a third did so five times or more.

Subjects who had received more than the group average were penalized most frequently and most heavily, at a rate of about three-quarters of a unit for each unit above the average. In contrast, those that started out with considerably less than the others got sizeable gifts, at rate of about eight-tenths of a unit for each unit below the average.

The pattern of behaviors had the effect of equalizing income. It also did not change as players gained experience with the game (and so could clearly see that there really was nothing to be gained from their costly actions). Furthermore, it didn't seem to matter whether individuals had themselves been the targets of an increase or reduction in the previous round: They continued acting as they had, either redistributing winnings according to apparently egalitarian principles or, as was the case with a minority, concentrating wealth in the hands of a few.

The researchers capped their experiment with a questionnaire designed to elicit emotional reactions. Players expressed the greatest levels of annoyance and anger in a hypothetical situation where one player got far more than they had. And the players who felt this way the strongest spent more to equalize the distribution.

In related research, Fowler has shown that game behavior correlates with people's political participation. Those that engage in costly giving and taking in a game tend to also be registered with a major political party and to vote at greater rates.

"The 'Robin Hood impulse' people display in the lab," Fowler said, "appears to translate into good citizenship out in the world."

Inga Kiderra | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.ucsd.edu

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Rutgers-led innovation could spur faster, cheaper, nano-based manufacturing
14.02.2018 | Rutgers University

nachricht New study from the University of Halle: How climate change alters plant growth
12.01.2018 | Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Developing reliable quantum computers

International research team makes important step on the path to solving certification problems

Quantum computers may one day solve algorithmic problems which even the biggest supercomputers today can’t manage. But how do you test a quantum computer to...

Im Focus: In best circles: First integrated circuit from self-assembled polymer

For the first time, a team of researchers at the Max-Planck Institute (MPI) for Polymer Research in Mainz, Germany, has succeeded in making an integrated circuit (IC) from just a monolayer of a semiconducting polymer via a bottom-up, self-assembly approach.

In the self-assembly process, the semiconducting polymer arranges itself into an ordered monolayer in a transistor. The transistors are binary switches used...

Im Focus: Demonstration of a single molecule piezoelectric effect

Breakthrough provides a new concept of the design of molecular motors, sensors and electricity generators at nanoscale

Researchers from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS (IOCB Prague), Institute of Physics of the CAS (IP CAS) and Palacký University...

Im Focus: Hybrid optics bring color imaging using ultrathin metalenses into focus

For photographers and scientists, lenses are lifesavers. They reflect and refract light, making possible the imaging systems that drive discovery through the microscope and preserve history through cameras.

But today's glass-based lenses are bulky and resist miniaturization. Next-generation technologies, such as ultrathin cameras or tiny microscopes, require...

Im Focus: Stem cell divisions in the adult brain seen for the first time

Scientists from the University of Zurich have succeeded for the first time in tracking individual stem cells and their neuronal progeny over months within the intact adult brain. This study sheds light on how new neurons are produced throughout life.

The generation of new nerve cells was once thought to taper off at the end of embryonic development. However, recent research has shown that the adult brain...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

2nd International Conference on High Temperature Shape Memory Alloys (HTSMAs)

15.02.2018 | Event News

Aachen DC Grid Summit 2018

13.02.2018 | Event News

How Global Climate Policy Can Learn from the Energy Transition

12.02.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Stiffness matters

22.02.2018 | Life Sciences

Magnetic field traces gas and dust swirling around supermassive black hole

22.02.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

First evidence of surprising ocean warming around Galápagos corals

22.02.2018 | Earth Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>