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Decision making, is it all 'me, me, me'?

Psychologists find evidence that it’s not.

People act in their own best interests, according to traditional views of how and why we make the decisions that we do.

However, psychologists at the Universities of Leicester and Exeter have recently found evidence that this assumption is not necessarily true. In fact the research, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, shows that most of us will act in the best interest of our team – often at our own expense.

Psychologists carried out the first systematic tests of team reasoning theories by assessing two well known views of how people behave:

*That predicts people will act for selfish reasons
*That people will act in the best interest of their “team”
Lead researcher Professor Andrew Colman, of the University of Leicester School of Psychology, said: “We have shown that, in some circumstances, decision makers cooperate in their collective interests rather than following the purely selfish predictions of orthodox game theory.

“We carried out two experiments designed to test classical game theory against theories of team reasoning developed in the 1990s by British game theorists. According to classical game theory, decision makers invariably act in their individual self-interest, leading to “Nash equilibrium”, named after the US game theorist and Nobel laureate John Nash, depicted in the biopic A Beautiful Mind.

“Theories of team reasoning were developed to explain why, in some circumstances, people seem to act not in their individual self-interest but in the interest of their families, companies, departments, or the religious, ethnic, or national groups with which they identify themselves.”

Professor Colman is delighted with the results. He said: “Team reasoning is a familiar process, but it is inexplicable within the framework of orthodox game theory. Our findings show for the first time that it predicts decision making more powerfully than orthodox game theory in some games.”

Notes for editor
For further information contact: Professor Andrew M. Colman, E-mail:

Phone: +44 (0)116 229 7197

1. The study was carried out by Professor Andrew Colman and Dr Briony Pulford at the University of Leicester in collaboration with Dr Jo Rose of the University of Exeter.

2. The results will be published within the next few months in the journal Acta Psychologica, together with commentaries from decision theorists from the UK, the Netherlands, and the US. The article is already in the public domain on the official web site of the journal.

3. Orthodox or classical game predicts that people will act for selfish reasons

4. Team reasoning theory suggests individual self-interest is not always foremost in the way people act

5. In each experiment, 81 participants (36 men and 45 women) made decisions in pairs and were paid between £4 and £13, depending on the outcomes of their decisions. The first experiment was based on lifelike vignettes describing imaginary situations in which members of each pair were raising funds for charity or collecting money for a campaign to oppose a GM test site. In the second experiment, the decisions were purely monetary, with no lifelike vignettes. In both experiments, most decision makers preferred the team-reasoning options, which maximized the money received by both members of the pair, to the options that would have maximized their individual payoffs.

6. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest funding agency for research and postgraduate training relating to social and economic issues. It supports independent, high quality research which impacts on business, the public sector and the third sector. The ESRC’s planned total expenditure in 2008/09 is £203 million. At any one time the ESRC supports over 4,000 researchers and postgraduate students in academic institutions and research policy institutes.

Ather Mirza | alfa
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