1. Study suggests groups lie more than individuals

    September 14, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences press release:

    Do you pride yourself on being an honest person? Even individuals who have a proven track record of honest behavior are no match for the potentially negative influences present in a group dynamic, especially when money is at stake, according to a new study, published in the INFORMS journal Management Science.

    When organizations are exposed for large-scale deceptive or corrupt behavior, often it is not the actions of one or two employees, but a coordinated effort of many individuals, to include upper level management. Prominent examples include the bankruptcies of WorldCom and Enron, and even more recently, the alleged issuance of faulty emissions certificates by German car manufacturer Volkswagen. The study, “I lie? We lie! Why? Experimental Evidence on a Dishonesty Shift in Groups,” explored what motivates a group of people, especially those who previously behaved honestly, to work together to deceive.

    The study authors, Martin G. Kocher, Simeon Schudy and Lisa Spantig, all of the Ludwig-Maximilians-University of Munich, studied 273 participants in both individual and group situations. Participants, who were paid for their role in the study, were shown video of dice rolls and asked to report the number shown on the die. The higher the reported die roll, the larger the monetary compensation. Participants were evaluated on an individual basis, and in two group settings: one in which all members of the group must report the same die roll to receive a payoff, and another in which members do not have to report the same die roll to receive a payoff. In the group settings, members are able to communicate with each other via a chat feature.

    “We observed that groups lie significantly more than individuals when group members face mutual financial gain and have to coordinate an action in order to realize that financial gain,” said Kocher.

    Of the 78 groups that participated in the study, arguments for dishonesty were explicitly mentioned in 51 percent of the group chats. In fact, of the messages that were exchanged among group members, 43.4 percent argued for dishonest reporting, while only 15.6 percent consisted of arguments for honesty. Interestingly, the authors found that the number of individuals in each group who had exhibited dishonest behavior in the individual portion of the study had no real impact on these results, as dishonesty occurred even in groups where all members had previously responded honestly.

    The ability for group members to exchange and discuss potential justifications for their dishonest behavior can create an overall shift in the group’s beliefs of what constitutes moral behavior,” said Spantig. “This allows them to establish a new norm regarding what does or does not constitute dishonest behavior,” according to Schudy.


  2. Study links mental health to retirement savings

    September 13, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Medica Research Institute press release:

    The question of how mental health status affects decisions regarding retirement savings is becoming a pressing issue in the United States. Key factors contributing to this issue include the tenuous state of the Social Security system, greater use of defined-contribution pension plans by employers, longer lifespans, and the rise of depression and other mental health issues in older Americans.

    In the latest edition of the journal Health Economics, researchers Vicki Bogan of Cornell University and Angela Fertig, research investigator at Medica Research Institute, find that mental health problems have a large and significant negative effect on retirement savings.

    “A growing number of households are dealing with mental health issues like depression and anxiety,” says Fertig. “Our project studies the effect that mental health issues have on retirement savings because we need to understand how health problems may affect the economic security of this growing population.”

    The researchers found that psychological distress is associated with:

    • up to a 62 percent lower probability of holding retirement accounts
    • $15,000 less held in retirement savings accounts by single households and $42,000 less held by married couples
    • up to a 47 percent higher probability that married couples withdraw from their retirement accounts

    The results are generally consistent across single and married households. However, the study found some evidence to indicate that singles with psychological distress may divert funds away from retirement accounts, while married individuals with psychological distress may withdraw more from their retirement accounts. The study did not find evidence indicating that psychological distress affects retirement savings behavior through financial literacy or cognitive limitations.

    The effect sizes found are large, suggesting that more employer management and government regulation of defined-contribution pension plans, IRAs, and Keogh retirement accounts may be warranted.

    “The magnitude of these effects underscores the importance of employer management policy and government regulation of these accounts to help ensure households have adequate retirement savings,” says Fertig. “Better understanding the link between mental health and retirement savings decisions could inform policy interventions that may encourage households to save sufficient funds for retirement through defined contribution plans and shape national changes to the defined contribution plan withdrawal penalties.”


  3. Study suggests personality may drive purchasing of luxury goods

    September 6, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University College London press release:

    People who are extraverted and on low incomes buy more luxury goods than their introverted peers to compensate for the experience of low financial status, finds new UCL research.

    The study, published today in Psychological Science, used real life spending data from UK bank accounts to investigate the spending habits of richer and poorer people with different personality types.

    People living on a low income often feel low status in society and spend a higher percentage of their money on goods and services that are perceived to have a high status.

    “We’ve shown that personality looks to be an important factor in how people respond to living with limited resources. We hope this new association will help us better understand which people may be likely to engage in behaviour that perpetuates the conditions of financial hardship,” explained Joe Gladstone, study co-author from UCL School of Management.

    Previous research has found that people who are sociable and outgoing care more about their social status than others. The new research shows that when extraverted people have a lower income, they spend proportionately more on status goods than introverts on the same income. At higher incomes, the difference in spending lessens as introverted people buy more luxury goods.

    “It’s clear from our study that an extraverted personality is a driver for low-income individuals purchasing more luxury goods, and this is most likely to compensate for a perceived low social status that isn’t as keenly felt by introverts. We saw very little difference in the spending habits of introverts and extraverts with high incomes,” said Blaine Landis, study co-author from UCL School of Management.

    The study was conducted in collaboration with a UK-based multinational bank. Customers were asked whether they would complete a standard personality questionnaire, and to consent to their responses being matched anonymously for research purposes with their bank transaction data.

    The study analysed thousands of transactions from 718 customers over 12 months. The results took into account other factors that could influence spending habits, such as age, sex, employment status and whether the customers had children. Cash spending was also taken into account.

    Each person’s spending data were sorted into a number of spending categories from one (very low status) to five (very high status). High-status categories (i.e., those with average scores of four or five) included foreign air travel, golf, electronics and art institutions, whereas low-status categories (i.e., those with average scores of two or one) included pawnbrokers, salvage yards and discount stores.

    The team found the interaction between income and extraversion in predicting spending on luxury goods is significant and emphasize that while this useful in understanding the relationship, further research is needed to see whether the relationship is causal and whether the results are representative of the UK population as a whole.


  4. Smokers 20 percent more likely to quit when cigarettes cost $1 more

    September 3, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Drexel University press release:

    Older smokers are usually more set in their ways, but a dollar increase in cigarette prices makes them 20 percent more likely to quit, a new Drexel University study found.

    The study, published in Epidemiology, used 10 years of neighborhood-level price data to determine how it affected nearby smokers, focusing on those who skewed older.

    Older adult smokers have been smoking for a long time and tend to have lower rates of smoking cessation compared to younger populations, suggesting deeply entrenched behavior that is difficult to change,” said Stephanie Mayne, PhD, the lead author of the study who is a former doctoral student at Drexel and now a fellow at Northwestern. “Our finding that increases in cigarette prices were associated with quitting smoking in the older population suggests that cigarette taxes may be a particularly effective lever for behavior change.”

    Taking a look at the local relationship between smoking habits and cigarette prices is an understudied but important area to look at, according to the senior author on the study, Amy Auchincloss, PhD, associate professor in the Dornsife School of Public Health.

    “Results on this topic primarily have come from population surveillance,” she said. “But we had neighborhood tobacco price data and could link that to a cohort of individuals who were followed for about 10 years.”

    Smoking cessation remains an important focus of public health efforts since it remains the largest preventable cause of death and disease in not just the United States, but the world.

    The cohort Mayne and Auchincloss looked at included smokers ranging in age from 44 to 84 and stretched across six different places, including the Bronx, Chicago, and the county containing Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Data were taken from the study population between 2002 and 2012 as a part of the Multi-Ethnic Study of Artherosclerosis (MESA).

    In addition to finding that current smokers were 20 percent more likely to quit smoking when pack prices went up by a dollar, Mayne and Auchincloss’ team showed that there was a 3 percent overall reduction in smoking risk.

    However, when the data was narrowed to heavy smokers (defined as smoking more than half a pack a day), there was a 7 percent reduction in risk. When prices increased by a dollar, heavy smokers also showed a 35 percent reduction in the average number of cigarettes they smoked per day, compared to 19 percent less in the overall smoking population.

    “Since heavy smokers smoke more cigarettes per day initially, they may feel the impact of a price increase to a greater degree and be more likely to cut back on the number of cigarettes they smoke on a daily basis,” Mayne said.

    While the data focused on a population older than 44, Mayne believes the price effect may be “similar or possibly stronger in a younger population.”

    “Some research suggests younger adults may be more price-sensitive than older adults,” she pointed out.

    Something she found, though, was that smoking bans in bars and restaurants did not appear to have any effect on smoking behavior in the study population. Although more research is likely necessary to see why that is and whether it’s true — Mayne will soon publish a study devoted to that — one possible explanation is that the economic pressures of a cigarette price increase provide a stronger incentive to quit than placing limits on smoking in public places.

    Mark Stehr, PhD, an associate professor in Drexel’s School of Economics who also served as a co-author on the study, also had a thought on the bans’ effect.

    “A ban may be circumvented by going outside or staying home, whereas avoiding a price increase might take more effort,” he pointed out.

    Based on results from this study, raising cigarette prices appears to be a better strategy for encouraging smoking cessation across all ages.

    “More consistent tax policy across the United States might help encourage more older adults to quit smoking,” Mayne said.

    “Given our findings, if an additional one dollar was added to the U.S. tobacco tax, it could amount to upwards of one million fewer smokers,” Auchincloss said. “Short of federal taxes, raising state and local taxes and creating minimum price thresholds for tobacco should be essential components of a comprehensive tobacco control strategy — particularly in places with high tobacco prevalence.


  5. ‘Tightwads and spenders’ study examines financial perceptions that hurt couples

    August 30, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Brigham Young University press release:

    When a husband thinks his wife spends too much money, whether it’s reality or perception, financial and marriage problems follow.

    A new multistate study from researchers at BYU and Kansas State University looked at contrasting financial personalities in a marriage. They titled the personalities “tightwads and spenders,” as seen in the Journal of Financial Planning.

    What shaped these personalities in marriage wasn’t concrete attributes the individuals displayed or even the circumstances they were in. Rather, it was the perception about how spendy the other spouse was.

    “The fact that spouses’ perceptions of each other’s spending behaviors were so predictive of financial conflict suggests that when it comes to the impact of finances on relationships, perceptions may be just as important, if not more important, than reality,” said Ashley LeBaron, BYU graduate student and study co-author.

    The study found that for husbands, having a wife who they saw as a spender was the highest contributor to financial conflict. For wives, having a husband who viewed them as a spender was the highest contributor to financial conflict. This was seen for couples with high incomes and low incomes as well as with couples who spent a lot and those who did not spend much at all. The views were completely relative to perception.

    LeBaron worked with BYU family life professor Jeffrey Hill as well as a national expert in the area of finances in marriage, Kansas State professor Sonya Britt-Lutter.

    “Couples need to communicate about finances, especially early in marriage,” Britt-Lutter said. “Don’t think that financial problems will magically go away when circumstances change. The study showed that circumstances weren’t the issue here, perception was, and perception doesn’t always change when circumstances do.”

    Secondarily to the perception of a spendy wife, the study found that men saw having more children as impacting financial conflict, and women saw a lack of financial communication overall as impacting financial conflict.

    Of those who participated in the study, 90 percent of women and 85 percent of men reported that they experienced some kind of financial worries.

    The researchers suggest that no matter what the perceptions or realities are exactly, if finances are causing problems in a marriage, help is possible.

    “The good news is that couples can benefit from clinical help,” Hill said, “whether that be a financial planner or a marriage and family therapist.”

    There are also a host of resources available online, paid and free, to assist in budgeting and money management.

    Data for this study came from BYU’s Flourishing Families Project, which is a longitudinal, multi-informant, multi-method look at inner-family dynamics. The project began in 2007 and to date includes 10 waves of data (including questionnaire, video and physiological data) on nearly 700 families from two locations. Hundreds of BYU undergraduate and graduate students have been involved over the course of the project.


  6. Study suggests inattention, poor memories shape inflation expectations

    August 15, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Massachusetts Institute of Technology press release:

    Do you know your country’s current inflation rate? What do you think it will be in the future? And how do you, personally, try to plan your finances accordingly?

    Those are important questions for economists and policymakers, because central bankers generally assess future expectations of inflation when setting interest rates. Yet as a new study co-authored by an MIT economist reveals, people have a haphazard approach to assessing inflation. Most citizens only pay attention to the topic intermittently, and they overestimate how bad inflation will become.

    Still, there is some good news in these findings, based on research in the U.S. and Argentina, countries that have very different experiences with inflation. Many people are “rationally inattentive” to inflation, as economists put it. That means an occasional focus on the subject may actually help people avoid overreactions to price blips.

    “There’s evidence of rational inattention,” says Alberto Cavallo, the Douglas Drane Associate Professor in Information Technology and Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management, and a co-author of the study. “People are paying attention when they need to.”

    And now for the bad news.

    People have terrible memories,” Cavallo says. “Even in a place like Argentina, which has so much inflation, where this is so important to correctly estimate, people have no clue what past prices were. They tended to think past prices were much lower than they were, so they thought inflation was much higher than it is.” Overall, Cavallo adds, “There is often an upward bias in inflation expectations.”

    The paper, “Inflation Expectations, Learning, and Supermarket Prices,” appears in the newest issue of the American Economic Journal: Macroeconomics. In addition to Cavallo, the authors are Guillermo Cruces of the National University of La Plata, in Argentina, and Ricardo Perez-Truglia of the University of California at Los Angeles.

    Statistics vs. store prices

    The study derives its findings from a series of online and offline surveys in both the U.S. and Argentina — in some cases conducted right after people have gone shopping in supermarkets.

    The two countries were chosen as sites for the study precisely because of their contrasting inflation histories. The U.S. inflation rate was 1.8 percent over the five years before the study, while in Argentina the inflation rate was 22.5 percent. That helped the scholars to examine what effect the experience of high or low inflation may have.

    The study produced multiple results. The researchers found that people in Argentina do tend to have absorbed more information about inflation than people in the U.S. — and as a consequence, they have more firmly entrenched ideas about the subject. For instance, respondents in the survey placed quite different amounts of emphasis on how much that new information would affect their views.

    In the U.S., people assigned a weight of just 15 percent to prior beliefs when it came to making assessments about future inflation; in Argentina, people assigned a weight of about 50 percent to their prior beliefs.

    “I think there’s good evidence in the paper that countries with higher inflation rates historically have people paying more attention, and thus stronger priors,” Cavallo says.

    That also fits with the notion on “rational inattention,” since in the U.S., where inflation rates are lower and more stable, people can afford to have accumulated less information about the subject in the past.

    “In the U.S., if inflation is 2 or 3 percent, it won’t change dramatically, and you are not affected too much,” Cavallo explains. “In Argentina, knowing what the inflation rate will be in the future is key for your salary. If it’s going to be 30 percent or 15 percent, that question becomes much more important.”

    It is also the case that people pay more attention to select prices they personally encounter, not to aggregate inflation statistics, even if the larger data sets may be a better guide to overall prices. Based on a series of questions to consumers, the researchers found that people are willing to give specific supermarket prices more weight in their inflation expectations, compared to the aggregate (but more abstract) data.

    “Within each country, we found people react more to the information of individual products,” Cavallo notes.

    Additionally, the study found, in the U.S., 29 percent of the variation in inflation expectations is due to perceptions of past inflation, whereas in Argentina, 60 percent of the variation in expectations stems from perceptions. Meaning: People’s memories of past inflation vary widely.

    As Cavallo observes, this could be a defense mechanism deployed by some people, since expectations tend to overshoot actual inflation increases.

    “In a country like Argentina with high inflation, it’s better to have an upward bias,” he says. “It’s a protective mechanism to think things are going to be worse than they actually are.”

    Great expectations

    The current paper is related to an extended series of studies Cavallo and his colleagues have undertaken on inflation. Cavallo and MIT Sloan economist Roberto Rigobon are co-founders of the MIT-based Billion Prices Project, an innovative program launched several years ago that tracks prices in real time, partly as a way of evaluating the accuracy of official inflation statistics.

    The current papers bears on the practices of monetary policy — the interest rates set by central banks. The so-called “real” interest rate consumers grapple with is a combination of the listed interest rates of lenders as well as inflation expectations.

    If people expect inflation to be higher than interest rates, they will — in theory, at least — be more likely to buy products now, averting future inflation, rather than depositing money at low rates. In turn, that behavior could have significant macroeconomic effects.

    Cavallo thinks the current study can help clarify for policymakers how people sort through information and shape their expectations in the first place.

    “One policy implication is that governments can provide [people] either better aggregate statistics or better individual examples,” Cavallo says. “I think they should … make sure they communicate clearly to consumers [and] speak about goods that are important. We’re basically seeing how much people learn from the information we give them.”


  7. Study suggests using money to buy time linked to increased happiness

    August 14, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University of British Columbia press release:

    New research is challenging the age-old adage that money can’t buy happiness.

    The study, led by researchers at the University of British Columbia and Harvard Business School, suggests that using money to buy free time — such as paying to delegate household chores like cleaning and cooking — is linked to greater life satisfaction.

    “People who hire a housecleaner or pay the kid next door to mow the lawn might feel like they’re being lazy,” said study lead author Ashley Whillans, assistant professor at Harvard Business School who carried out the research as a PhD candidate in the UBC department of psychology. “But our results suggest that buying time has similar benefits for happiness as having more money.”

    The researchers surveyed more than 6,000 adults in the United States, Denmark, Canada and the Netherlands. Respondents were asked if and how much they spent each month to buy themselves free time. They also rated their life satisfaction, and answered questions about feelings of time stress.

    Respondents who spent money on time saving purchases reported greater life satisfaction. The effect held up even after controlling for income.

    “The benefits of buying time aren’t just for wealthy people,” said UBC psychology professor and the study’s senior author Elizabeth Dunn. “We thought the effects might only hold up for people with quite a bit of disposable income, but to our surprise, we found the same effects across the income spectrum.”

    To test whether buying time actually causes greater happiness, the researchers also conducted a field experiment. Sixty adults were randomly assigned to spend $40 on a time saving purchase on one weekend, and $40 on a material purchase on another weekend. The results revealed that people felt happier when they spent money on a time saving purchase than on a material purchase.

    Despite the benefits, the researchers were surprised to discover how few people choose to spend their money on time saving purchases in daily life. Even in a sample of 850 millionaires who were surveyed, almost half reported spending no money outsourcing disliked tasks. A survey of 98 working adults asking how they would spend a windfall of $40 also revealed that only two per cent would use it in a way that saved them time.

    “Although buying time can serve as a buffer against the time pressures of daily life, few people are doing it even when they can afford it,” said Dunn. “Lots of research has shown that people benefit from buying their way into pleasant experiences, but our research suggests people should also consider buying their way out of unpleasant experiences.”


  8. Systematic research investigates effects of money on thinking, behavior

    July 21, 2017 by Ashley

    From the Association for Psychological Science press release:

    Numerous studies have shown that being prompted to think about money can predispose people to engage in self-sufficient thinking and behavior — but some findings suggest that demographic characteristics may moderate this type of effect. In a new research article, scientists present results from three experiments that systematically explore these money-priming effects, finding inconsistent evidence for the effect of money primes on various measures of self-sufficient thinking and behavior.

    The research is published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

    Psychology researcher Eugene M. Caruso (University of Chicago Booth School of Business) and co-authors Oren Shapira (Stony Brook University) and Justin Landy (also Chicago Booth) were motivated to carry out this systematic exploration after conducting a set of studies in which they observed varied findings that were inconsistent with their predictions.

    In their initial studies, Caruso and his collaborators found that the effects of money reminders on participants’ thinking often seemed to depend on certain demographic characteristics, a result they were not expecting. In discussing these results, they discovered that colleagues had also observed unpredicted interaction effects in their research in this area.

    Importantly, the kinds of interaction effects observed seemed to vary across different studies that used different techniques for activating the concept of money.

    “These inconsistent results led us to step back to try to gain a better understanding of whether different money primes lead to similar effects, and whether they interact with sociodemographic characteristics in a reliable, and potentially theoretically meaningful, manner,” Caruso explains.

    To do this, Caruso, Shapira, and Landy decided to systematically evaluate the effects of various money-priming manipulations on a predetermined set of outcomes while accounting for the potential influence of certain sociodemographic factors, within a single experiment that sampled a diverse group of participants.

    In their first experiment, the researchers recruited a total of 2,167 participants for an online study, randomly assigning participants to receive specific primes. For example, some saw a faint image of $100 bills in the background of the instructions screen, others were asked to select the best sizes and shapes for new paper currency, some completed phrases that included money-related terms, while others were asked to imagine having ample access to money. Some participants saw a clear image of $100 bills and were explicitly asked to describe what money meant to them, while others were asked to recall a time when they felt powerful.

    The results showed that four of the five money primes did activate the concept of money. Participants exposed to these primes were more likely to complete word stems to create money-related words compared with participants who received a neutral prime or no prime — only those exposed to the background image of money showed no difference in the word completion task relative to their peers.

    But the primes seemed to have weak and inconsistent effects on participants’ feelings of wealth and self-sufficiency. Only participants who imagined an abundant life reported differences in self-sufficiency, and they actually reported lower self-sufficiency compared with those who received a neutral prime, an unexpected finding.

    Additionally, there was little evidence to suggest that the effects of the primes on various outcomes were moderated by any of the demographic characteristics measured, including gender, socioeconomic status, and political ideology.

    The researchers observed similar results in a second online experiment with 2,150 participants that omitted the money-activation measure.

    In a third experiment, Caruso, Shapira, and Landy conducted a lab-based study with 332 members of the university community. To examine the effects of money primes on self-sufficient behavior, the researchers measured how long participants spent working on a puzzle that was actually unsolvable before they asked for help.

    The results echoed those of the previous online studies: The three money primes tested had weak and inconsistent effects across the different outcome measures. Only those participants who unscrambled phrases including money-related terms reported greater feelings of self-sufficiency relative to the comparison group.

    “Contrary to what we expected based on the published literature, we did not find that any manipulation consistently affected any dependent measure across our three studies, nor did we find reliable evidence for statistical moderation by sociodemographic characteristics,” says Caruso.

    The researchers urged caution in interpreting the findings relative to specific published studies, given that the three experiments were not designed to be exact replications of any one study. Rather, this series of experiments can be seen as offering a rigorous and systematic examination of a particular effect.

    “Beyond the implications for money-priming research, we hope that our methodological approach — comparing multiple manipulations of a construct and assessing multiple individual-difference moderators within the same heterogeneous sample — can make a broader contribution by supplementing the emerging toolkit of methodologies for establishing the reliability of individual effects and the validity of the theories that attempt to explain them,” Caruso concludes.


  9. Knowing more about economic gains makes people less cooperative

    July 15, 2017 by Ashley

    From the WZB Berlin Social Science Center press release:

    Existing research suggesting that humans cooperate if they know more about their own payoffs has been rebutted: In the long run, access to information about payoff distributions leads to less cooperative behavior, finds a recent study in Nature Communications by Steffen Huck, Johannes Leutgeb (both WZB Berlin Social Science Center) and Ryan Oprea (University of California, Santa Barbara). The study also shows that knowledge about earning possibilities leads to smaller earnings in the long-run.

    In their research, Huck et al. looked at the learning behavior of humans who interact in a competitive economic environment. In an experiment, the researchers assigned participants randomly into 18 pairs and instructed them to play a simple computer game with their counterparts for 600 periods. After each round, participants won points which at the end of the game could be exchanged into real money.

    The researchers formed two groups of pairs: While in the first group (A) participants after each round only received information on which action the opponent player had chosen and how much points each player had gained, the second group (B) had access to more elaborate information: here, participants could see the potential payoffs they could have achieved through taking other actions. With the help of this information, participants of the second group could maximize their short-term gains much more easily than the participants in the first group.

    Players in group A, lacking further information, first applied simple strategies to choose their actions, e.g. by imitating the more successful choices of their counterparts. Over time, however, players in this group leaned towards more cooperative strategies, such as matching the counterpart’s action regardless of payoffs. Players in group B, on the contrary, held on to a strategy of maximizing their short-term profit by picking the best action against their opponent’s current action.

    As a result, participants with no access to payoff information were not only much more cooperative, they also generated significantly higher economic gains in the long-run: Median earnings in group A were 50% higher than in group B.

    These results show that payoff information is an advantage only in the short run but hampers the learning necessary to establish more successful cooperation between humans in the long run. Study leader Steffen Huck concludes: “Systems that focus human attention on short term gains, for example through large annual bonus payments, may have similar adverse side effects. Our research shows that human cooperation is not mainly driven by rational calculation, but rather by simple heuristics. Good organisations should foster these cooperative modes of behavior rather than highlight possibilities for higher individual earnings.”

    The study “Payoff information hampers the evolution of cooperation” by Steffen Huck, Johannes Leutgeb and Ryan Oprea was published in the journal Nature Communications.


  10. Ill-gotten gains are worth less in the brain

    May 7, 2017 by Ashley

    From the University College London press release:

    The brain responds less to money gained from immoral actions than money earned decently, reveals a new UCL-led study.

    The research, published in Nature Neuroscience and funded by Wellcome, helps explain why most people are reluctant to seek illicit gains by identifying a neural process that dampens the appeal of profiting at other people’s expense.

    “When we make decisions, a network of brain regions calculates how valuable our options are,” explained lead author Dr Molly Crockett of the University of Oxford, who carried out the research while based at the UCL Wellcome Centre for Neuroimaging. “Ill-gotten gains evoke weaker responses in this network, which may explain why most people would rather not profit from harming others. Our results suggest the money just isn’t as appealing.”

    The research team scanned volunteers’ brains as they decided whether to anonymously inflict pain on themselves or strangers in exchange for money. The study builds on previous research by the same team that showed people dislike harming others more than harming themselves. This behaviour was seen again in this study, with most people more willing to harm themselves than others for profit.

    The study involved 28 pairs of participants who were anonymously paired and randomly assigned to be either the ‘decider’ or the ‘receiver’. Deciders picked between different amounts of money for different numbers of electric shocks. Half the decisions related to shocks for themselves and half to shocks for the receiver, but in all cases the deciders would get the money. The shocks were matched to each recipient’s pain threshold to be mildly painful but tolerable. The deciders were in an fMRI brain scanner.

    As they made their decisions, a brain network including the striatum was activated, as it has been shown in previous studies to be key to value computation. As they decided between more profitable options or those with fewer shocks, this brain network signalled how beneficial each option was. The network responded less to money gained from shocking others, compared with money gained from shocking oneself — but only in those people who behaved morally.

    Meanwhile, the lateral prefrontal cortex (LPFC), a brain region involved in making moral judgments, was most active in trials where inflicting pain yielded minimal profit. In a follow-up study, participants made moral judgements about decisions to harm others for profit, and considered those same trials to be the most blameworthy. Taken together, the findings suggest the LPFC was assessing blame. When people refused to profit from harming others, this region was communicating with the striatum, suggesting that neural representations of moral rules might disrupt the value of ill-gotten gains encoded in the striatum.

    “Our findings suggest the brain internalizes the moral judgments of others, simulating how much others might blame us for potential wrongdoing, even when we know our actions are anonymous,” Dr Crockett said.

    Senior author Professor Ray Dolan (UCL Max Planck Centre for Computational Psychiatry and Ageing Research) said: “What we have shown here is how values that guide our decisions respond flexibly to moral consequences. An important goal for future research is understanding when and how this circuitry is disturbed in contexts such as antisocial behaviour.”