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!
WAKE-UP provides new treatment option for stroke patients | International study led by UKE
17.05.2018 | Universitätsklinikum Hamburg-Eppendorf
First form of therapy for childhood dementia CLN2 developed
25.04.2018 | Universitätsklinikum Hamburg-Eppendorf
A research team led by physicists at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) has developed molecular nanoswitches that can be toggled between two structurally different states using an applied voltage. They can serve as the basis for a pioneering class of devices that could replace silicon-based components with organic molecules.
The development of new electronic technologies drives the incessant reduction of functional component sizes. In the context of an international collaborative...
At the LASYS 2018, from June 5th to 7th, the Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. (LZH) will be showcasing processes for the laser material processing of tomorrow in hall 4 at stand 4E75. With blown bomb shells the LZH will present first results of a research project on civil security.
At this year's LASYS, the LZH will exhibit light-based processes such as cutting, welding, ablation and structuring as well as additive manufacturing for...
There are videos on the internet that can make one marvel at technology. For example, a smartphone is casually bent around the arm or a thin-film display is rolled in all directions and with almost every diameter. From the user's point of view, this looks fantastic. From a professional point of view, however, the question arises: Is that already possible?
At Display Week 2018, scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP will be demonstrating today’s technological possibilities and...
So-called quantum many-body scars allow quantum systems to stay out of equilibrium much longer, explaining experiment | Study published in Nature Physics
Recently, researchers from Harvard and MIT succeeded in trapping a record 53 atoms and individually controlling their quantum state, realizing what is called a...
The historic first detection of gravitational waves from colliding black holes far outside our galaxy opened a new window to understanding the universe. A...
02.05.2018 | Event News
13.04.2018 | Event News
12.04.2018 | Event News
24.05.2018 | Physics and Astronomy
24.05.2018 | Health and Medicine
24.05.2018 | Life Sciences