We strive for relative rather than absolute prosperity.
- Money isn't everything, Men with a lot of testosterone make curious economic choices
Dr Burnham's research budget ran to a bunch of $40 games. When there are many rounds in the ultimatum game, players learn to split the money more or less equally. But Dr Burnham was interested in a game of only one round. In this game, which the players knew in advance was final and could thus not affect future outcomes, proposers could choose only between offering the other player $25 (ie, more than half the total) or $5. Responders could accept or reject the offer as usual. Those results recorded, Dr Burnham took saliva samples from all the students and compared the testosterone levels assessed from those samples with decisions made in the one-round game.
As he describes in the Proceedings of the Royal Society, the responders who rejected a low final offer had an average testosterone level more than 50% higher than the average of those who accepted. Five of the seven men with the highest testosterone levels in the study rejected a $5 ultimate offer but only one of the 19 others made the same decision.
What Dr Burnham's result supports is a much deeper rejection of the tenets of classical economics than one based on a slight mis-evolution of negotiating skills. It backs the idea that what people really strive for is relative rather than absolute prosperity. They would rather accept less themselves than see a rival get ahead. That is likely to be particularly true in individuals with high testosterone levels, since that hormone is correlated with social dominance in many species.
The idea of looking for testosterone is brilliant. Classical economics was always as unscientific as it got. Mathematical yes, but no basis in repeatable experiment.
I think the root of this evolutionary adaption is punishment. Punishment is requires one lose locally to gain globally and this is necessary to hold large social groups together, something humans are uniquely capable of doing.
son of parnas
July 6th, 2007 11:18am
Nassim Taleb laid that out nicely in "Fooled by Randomness".
King Solomon had the last word on materiality: Vanity of Vanity, all is Vanity.
July 6th, 2007 11:55am
Tyranny against tyrants is tyrannical?
July 6th, 2007 11:57am
Yeah - I have more disposable income than an average family of 4. More than I need for anything I want to do. I still want more because I know people younger than me with x2/x3 as much.
July 6th, 2007 12:44pm
I just want to have the same lifestyle I have now, forever, without working any more.
July 6th, 2007 12:57pm
So for those jacked up on T, classical economics, ie, greed, no longer applies? Interesting.
What's the flip side of that? Those who don't have a lot of testosterone ARE greedy?
July 6th, 2007 1:09pm
They are still greedy, but their goal isn't being richer but being richer than others.
July 6th, 2007 1:14pm
July 6th, 2007 1:16pm
I see. The T-Kings are smart enough to defeat the experiment. They know that in the real world, purchasing power is relative, and that there is no such thing as intrinsic worth of anything, money included. It is no law of the universe that the American dollar must be worth more than a euro, or a Canadian buck.
Gee, it's as if classical economics hasn't been dead for a generation.
July 6th, 2007 1:29pm
I think these results are pretty relevant to India and maybe China. You have 1/10 of 1% of the population making huge salaries and the rest of the country is in poverty. In India, when elections come around, surprise surprise, people vote populist, anti-IT. Then come the articles 'don't they understand that a rising tide lifts all boats?' Yes, they understand that, but they reject the rising tide that lifts some boats 10,000 times higher than most.
July 6th, 2007 2:22pm
Ooh, 26 guys played this tiny little game, but we're willing to throw out decades of economic theory.
Wow. People sure are gullible.
July 6th, 2007 2:31pm
Trickle-down economics are wonderful... when you're the one trickling on everyone.
July 6th, 2007 2:33pm
Not disproving decades of economical theories.
Just "classical" economics.
July 6th, 2007 2:38pm
> Ooh, 26 guys played this tiny little game, but we're willing to throw out decades of economic theory.
This is like the umpteenth experiment of this kind. The ultimatum game experiment itself I think "decades old". It even has a wikipedia entry:
So no paradigm has been overturned that hadn't already wilted. The relative/absolute value debate is old hat. This research was simply exploring the hormone testosterone's function.
I think SoP was getting close to the issue. Though I don't think it's 'punishment' per se, but something grander ... justice or equitability. As stated, the participants will take a 50/50 split of the free loot all the time. They will take a 55/45 split a little begrudgingly. 60/40? with clenched teeth. 70/30? 80/20?
At some point a participant will open their mouth and cry "unfair! He's getting way more than me, even if I'm getting something I didn't have before!"
What *this* particular experiment found was that how low a portion one was willing to take, ie, what the cake versus crumb ratio was, depends on testosterone present in the person's saliva.
What the study *doesn't* show is what causes what. Did the T cause a feeling of injustice and rejection of the offer? Or did the feelings of injection, of being treated unequal, unworthy of a higher portion cause the spike in T? (the T was measured after the decision.)
(what this has to do with the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, I will let other investigate.)
July 6th, 2007 2:53pm
> feelings of injection
oops: feelings of injustice, rejection
July 6th, 2007 2:54pm
"Did the T cause a feeling of injustice and rejection of the offer? Or did the feelings of injection, of being treated unequal, unworthy of a higher portion cause the spike in T? (the T was measured after the decision.) "
This has always been my chief arument against psychological medications that alter chemicals in the brain. Since feelings are abstract is it possible in any way to prove causality one direction or the other?
July 6th, 2007 2:56pm
btw, there's a similar experiment done on macaws (or maybe it was chimps) ...
- give a chimp a slice of cucumber and he will eat it happily
- give two socially similar chimps, a slice of cucumber each, and each will happily eat them
- give two socially similar chimps, a grape each, and each will eat them happily
- give one chimp a slice of cuke and his friend a grape, and the cuke recipient will storm off in a huff, not eating the slice of cucumber
(grape > cucumber, as any dieter will tell you.)
July 6th, 2007 3:01pm
> Did the T cause a feeling of injustice and rejection of the offer?
In a study in prison violence (no cite) they found testosterone was associated with inmates with more violent incidents. But they found that the testosterone wasn't high after, but not before incidents. So it's being violent that caused the rise of testosterone. And you proclivity to be violent depends on a lot of things.
son of parnas
July 6th, 2007 4:38pm
> Since feelings are abstract is it possible in any way to prove causality one direction or the other?
How are feeling abstact? They are the most grounded data you have. If you are worried I would be far more worried about my thoughts being changed by drugs and circumstance.
son of parnas
July 6th, 2007 4:39pm
What I'm getting at is that there exists no instrumentation or any scientific means of measuring emotion.
You say that feelings are grounded. You may well be able to articulate 'I am feeling sad' or 'I am feeling aggressive'. Presumably, however, the very construct behind those emotions is what you are using to measure them. Perhaps you are also feeling deceitful, even to the point of deceiving yourself.
In that respect, your feelings are not grounded. You wouldn't have any way of knowing if such self-introspect were truly accurate because the mechanic of measuring it alters the result itself. It's kind of like Schroedinger's cat.
I'm not saying chemicals can't affect your thoughts, I'm saying that there is no way to relate chemistry and biology to thought process and emotion.
Sure, you can dump lithium in a psychotic and observe the symptoms of psychosis decline, but that doesn't mean that you've done anything at all to correct psychosis.
To the end that it produces desirable/acceptable behavior in a majority of lab rats, your dosing of them has succeeded.
To the end of producing desirable/acceptable psyche, you may as well have fed them magic jelly beans.
July 6th, 2007 5:15pm
"you may as well have fed them magic jelly beans."
No way you can convince me flupentixol decanoate ester doesn't work.
At the very least it works better than magic jelly beans.
July 6th, 2007 5:22pm
And how do you know that what flupentixol decanoate ester actually does is make you believe very strongly that flupentixol decanoate ester does exactly what you want it to do?
July 6th, 2007 5:26pm
Well, I trust the scientists have done their homework :)
July 6th, 2007 5:42pm
> In that respect, your feelings are not grounded.
Damasio begs to differ (NY Review of Books): http://www.nybooks.com/articles/17217
A human being is a three-part organism consisting of body, brain, and mind, all of which are flesh and blood. One part of the human organism, the brain, monitors the whole body, and helps to keep it in equilibrium. Another part, the mind, monitors the brain and the way it monitors the body. The brain is literally in the body; we all understand that. The mind is part of that part of the body that is the brain. In the history of animals, the body evolved first, then more and more complex brains. Finally there evolved, perhaps only in man, the possibly even more complex part of the brain that Damasio calls mind. He makes his own distinction between emotions and feelings. "Emotions play out in the theater of the body. Feelings play out in the theater of the mind." Both are for (Damasio's italicized word) "life regulation" but feelings do it at a higher level. Joy is the feeling of life in equilibrium; sorrow of life in disarray ("functional disequilibrium").
Two key ideas here are: (1) A person is a "nested triad" of mind in brain, and brain in body. (2) In the background there is always a story of natural selection about the evolution of this triadic structure. In what follows, I will try to see what all this amounts to.
July 6th, 2007 5:50pm
I don't find what you've quoted of Damasio in contradiction to what I am saying.
July 6th, 2007 6:00pm
It's not his words, but the reviewer's summary. which he goes on to critique.
i haven't finished reading it myself.
i guess the issue is the 'groundedness' of feelings. you say that since they are changeable by mere thought, or "not anywhere", they can't be grounded.
Damasio is where I first bumped into the notion of 'measuring feelings' like you propose. i'm personally scared what will happen when we do measure them.
July 6th, 2007 6:07pm
-----"In India, when elections come around, surprise surprise, people vote populist, anti-IT. Then come the articles 'don't they understand that a rising tide lifts all boats?' Yes, they understand that, but they reject the rising tide that lifts some boats 10,000 times higher than most."-----
But the rising tide wasn't lifting all boats. Rather it was capsizing the smallest.
July 7th, 2007 7:18am
Over the years I have met one or two individuals who were able to think 'above' the level of the game scenario, realise it was all bullshit, and manipulate the results to what they wanted. If the person participating in the test has a superior intellect (in this respect) to the person conducting the test, does it invalidate the results?
July 7th, 2007 9:11am
> If the person participating in the test has a superior intellect (in this respect) to the person conducting the test, does it invalidate the results?
Sounds like Timothy Leary. He created the psych test they used to evaluate convicts. So he knew how to answer to get himself put in a minimum security prison.
son of parnas
July 7th, 2007 11:36pm