Negative image of people produces selfish actions

Apr 12, 2011
Vicious cycle of urban degeneration: small incidents of neglect, such as graffiti vandalism or broken windows can reinforce each other and, if not counteracted, lead to the total breakdown of entire neighbourhoods. Credit: iStock Photo

(PhysOrg.com) -- The expectations people have about how others will behave play a large role in determining whether people cooperate with each other or not. And moreover that very first expectation, or impression, is hard to change. "This is particularly true when the impression is a negative one," says Michael Kurschilgen from the Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods in Bonn, summarising the key findings of a study in which he and his colleagues Christoph Engel and Sebastian Kube examined the results of so-called public good games. One's own expectation thereby becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: those who expect people to act selfishly, actually experience uncooperative behavior from others more often.

In previous studies, other researchers had successfully put participants in Bonn and London into a social dilemma with such games, which are very popular in experimental economics. Engel, Kube and Kurschilgen used them as a template for their study, which focuses on an aspect that ought to be of interest to social policymakers and town planners too. "We wanted to find out whether the 'broken windows' theory held true in the lab as well," explained Michael Kurschilgen.

According to this theory, minor details, like broken windows in abandoned buildings or rubbish on the streets, can give rise to desolate conditions like the utter neglect of a district. "Such signs of neglect give people the impression that social standards do not apply there," says Kurschilgen, explaining the idea behind the theory, which was the motivation behind New York mayor Rudy Giuliani's decision to embark on the zero-tolerance strategy he employed to clean up the city in the 1990s.

In their study, the three MPI scientists tested the theory in a . Using the kind of public good games that are often applied in the field of experimental economics, their aim was to find out the extent to which first impressions determine how people will behave, and the extent to which this can be influenced by selective information. The games are set up around the classic dilemma of self-interest and socially minded behaviour: each member of a group of four players is given the sum of 20 tokens They can either keep these for themselves or invest them in a community project. Each player receives 0.4 tokens in return for each tokens they invest in the community project. If all four group members invest their 20 tokens, each one of them receives 32 tokens, in other words 12 tokens more than if they all keep the money for themselves. But if only three of them invest their money in the community, the selfish fourth player gets 44 tokens.

So even the free rider profits from the other players' investment in the community fund. "The public good game thus creates a social dilemma," explains the economist. That's because it would be best for the community if everybody invested in the collective. However, on an individual level the free rider gets the best out of it. They ultimately receive the bonus without having made the investment.

Surprisingly, there are significant differences between Bonn and London in the willingness to invest in the common good. Londoners invested a mere 43 per cent, on average, in the common good. In Bonn, on the other hand, the figure was 82 per cent. "This is probably down to differing expectations of what constitutes normal behaviour," postulates Kurschilgen. Individuals who assume that the others will act selfishly too are hardly likely to commit altruistic deeds themselves. "From that point of view, Londoners have a more pessimistic view of man than do the participants in Bonn," he concludes in respect of the Brits' reticence. Consequently, whether a person decides to behave cooperatively or not depends strongly on how that person thinks the other players will behave.

In their series of experiments, Engel, Kube and Kurschilgen told their newly recruited players from Bonn the results of the London study. The players in the new round of games evidently reacted very negatively to the information that few of the players in the previous experiments in London had exhibited cooperative behaviour. Unlike the virtuous people of Bonn from the previous rounds, they showed far fewer pretensions of being good citizens: instead of investing more than 80 per cent in the common good, the participants in these experiments contributed just 51 per cent, on average. Therefore, the negative information was enough to revise the previously positive image held by the Bonn residents. This model did not really work the other way around – good examples did not make bad teammates into goody two-shoes.

"Our findings demonstrate that the core of the 'broken windows' theory does actually hold true. Faced with a social dilemma, people are guided to a very great extent by their original expectations of what other people will do, but they are also particularly sensitive to negative impressions," says Kurschilgen, summing up the observations.

Given this conclusion, it is clear to him that every cent spent on maintaining residential districts does more than just make the neighbourhood look prettier – it also represents a sound investment against crime.

Explore further: New poll reveals what Americans fear most

More information: Engel C., et al. Can we manage first impressions in cooperation problems? An experimental study on “Broken (and Fixed) Windows," Preprints of the Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods, 2011/05

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Fig1024
5 / 5 (1) Apr 12, 2011
All of this seems intuitively true, it seems common sense.
It can also be used to explain a lot of social behaviors, such as bitter divide between Republicans and Democrats - both sides expect the other to behave badly, with very low expectations. Hence they can never agree on anything.
pauljpease
5 / 5 (4) Apr 12, 2011
Yes, it also explains why it's easy to take advantage of other people for your own benefit, without the exploited people realizing it. Especially if the "cheater" lives in a gated community behind an impenetrable veil of secrecy, so that the "contributors" don't even realize there is a cheater in the game...
ryggesogn2
2.3 / 5 (6) Apr 12, 2011
"Our findings demonstrate that the core of the 'broken windows' theory does actually hold true.

They couldn't believe the results from a generally conservative Republican NYC mayor?

I suggest the cleanliness and functionality of public toilets would be a great measure of social behavior.
Quantum_Conundrum
5 / 5 (4) Apr 12, 2011
Yes, it also explains why it's easy to take advantage of other people for your own benefit, without the exploited people realizing it. Especially if the "cheater" lives in a gated community behind an impenetrable veil of secrecy, so that the "contributors" don't even realize there is a cheater in the game...


There are lots of "cheaters" in our civilization. Pretty much the entire sports and entertainment industries are a rip-off where people get payed 20 to 100 times more to sing and dance and play games than they would if they had a real job.

There are also the fat cats on wall street, who really don't do anything at all, other than to serve as a middle man and drive up the price of everything at everyone else's expense.
Skeptic_Heretic
5 / 5 (4) Apr 12, 2011
They couldn't believe the results from a generally conservative Republican NYC mayor?

I suggest the cleanliness and functionality of public toilets would be a great measure of social behavior.

This article describes you to a tee Mr. Swenson. You have a generally negative attitude towards everyone, and you're possibly one of the most selfish persons I've ever shared a word with.
ryggesogn2
1.6 / 5 (7) Apr 12, 2011
It is selfish to promote individual liberty for everyone?
I don't want to use the power of the state to force people to pay for my food, or clothes or medical care.
I don't want to force people to do anything for me or to me.
That is not what SH supports with his Regulatory State.

Pretty much the entire sports and entertainment industries are a rip-off where people get payed 20 to 100 times more to sing and dance and play games than they would if they had a real job.

Professional sports players and entertainers work 16+ hour days, 7 days a week at times. How hard to you work QC? And most barely make a living.
BTW, don't watch them and don't buy the products advertised. (Such envy!)
Skeptic_Heretic
5 / 5 (4) Apr 12, 2011
It is selfish to promote individual liberty for everyone?
No, it certainly isn't. To bad you only promote liberty for the financially advantaged.
I don't want to use the power of the state to force people to pay for my food, or clothes or medical care.
Uhm, yes you did. You're a politician in Chelmsford.
don't want to force people to do anything for me or to me. That is not what SH supports with his Regulatory State.
Then you prefer lawlessness. That would be an explicit lack of individual liberty.
Professional sports players and entertainers work 16+ hour days, 7 days a week at times. How hard to you work QC? And most barely make a living.
Plenty of Americans do the very same, some are homeless, many can't make ends meet or feed their kids.
ryggesogn2
1.8 / 5 (5) Apr 12, 2011
I support: "political equality means that the individuals right to life, liberty and property is respected and that government abstains from conferring any special advantage or inflicting any special harm upon one individual (or group) in distinction to another. "
'conferring special advantage' is what SH's Regulatory State does.
SH supports this:
"Economic equality means in essence that people have the same income or total wealth.
Social equality generally means either (a) equality of social status, (b) equality of opportunity, or (c) equality of treatment. Social equality is also increasingly coming to mean (d) equality of achievement. "
"A little reflection will quickly demonstrate that economic and social equality can only be achieved at the expense of political equality. "
Which is what happens in SH's Regulatory State.
http://www.thefre...quality/
ryggesogn2
1.8 / 5 (5) Apr 12, 2011
And especially for QC:
"Because people differ in ability, drive, intelligence, strength and many other attributes it follows that, with liberty, people also will differ in achievement, status, income and wealth. A talented singer will command a higher income than a ditch-digger. A frugal, hardworking man generally will accumulate more wealth than an indolent spendthrift. A brilliant scientist will command more respect than a skid row bum.

Nor are all of these differences of social and economic achievement the result of environment. Because people are individualsgenetically, biochemically, anatomically and neurologicallydifferences in strength, intelligence, aggressiveness and other traits will always exist. "
http://www.thefre...quality/
QC expects everyone to be a cog in the wheel of the socialist state.
ryggesogn2
1.6 / 5 (7) Apr 12, 2011
Plenty of Americans do the very same, some are homeless, many can't make ends meet or feed their kids.

Churches provide meals and shelters.
Oh, wait, SH actively opposes churches and religion that inspire people to care for the poor.

If SH's Regulatory State would stop spending so much and provide a consistent, predictable economic climate, companies and entrepreneurs could plan expand their businesses and hire more people.
ryggesogn2
1.8 / 5 (5) Apr 12, 2011
Another for QC:
"Even if peoples incomes are made equal once, they will quickly become unequal if they have the liberty to spend their own money. For example, many more people will choose to pay $10 to hear Linda Ronstadt sing than will pay $10 to hear me sing, and Linda Ronstadt will very quickly become far wealthier than I am.

Economic equality can thus only be maintained by totalitarian control of peoples lives, and the substitution of the decisions of a handful of state authorities for the free choices of millions of men and women. "

For SH:
"The cure for poverty is more productivity, less state economic intervention, and an end to barriers to trade. The cure is not redistribution of wealth. "

But the cure takes power from the Regulatory State and puts it in the hands of the individual.
ryggesogn2
1.8 / 5 (5) Apr 12, 2011
"the ultimate and ugly motive of many egalitarians: A hatred of human ability per se. By that hatred they betray their human heritage and would condemn men to exist at the level of barbarians. "
http://www.thefre...quality/

The truly selfish are the coercive egalitarians described in the reference and who post here.
FrankHerbert
1.8 / 5 (10) Apr 12, 2011
LMAO ryggesogn2 is a politician? We're all doomed.
Skeptic_Heretic
3.7 / 5 (3) Apr 13, 2011
I support: "political equality means that the individuals right to life, liberty and property is respected and that government abstains from conferring any special advantage or inflicting any special harm upon one individual (or group) in distinction to another. "
Is that why you're against the 14th amendment. You've vocally disagreed with it on many occasions.
A brilliant scientist will command more respect than a skid row bum.
You should practice what you preach. After all, you take O'Reilly and Beck's words on Climate change over many a brilliant scientist.
But the cure takes power from the Regulatory State and puts it in the hands of the individual.
You do realize that not all capitalists are market fundamentalists, right?
ryggesogn2
1.8 / 5 (5) Apr 13, 2011
You do realize that not all capitalists are market fundamentalists, right?

How can they be under a Regulatory State?
Microsoft didn't have lobbyists in DC until they were sued by the Clinton administration for not playing the Washington,DC bribe game.
If the Regulatory State returned to what the Constitution intended, a limited govt that protects individual liberty and private property rights, capitalists could not bribe govt officials to eliminate their competitors.
LMAO ryggesogn2 is a politician? We're all doomed.

I would be more skeptical of that assertion.

Since no one disagrees with the definitions above of political equality, economic equality and social equality, we can use these terms in future discussions.
And everyone agrees that political equality must suffer if economic and social equality is corrosively imposed by the state.
Skeptic_Heretic
5 / 5 (1) Apr 13, 2011
You do realize that not all capitalists are market fundamentalists, right?
How can they be under a Regulatory State?
Are you wholly incapable of differentiating ideology from environment? That's a sign of mental incompetance.
Microsoft didn't have lobbyists in DC until they were sued by the Clinton administration for not playing the Washington,DC bribe game.
No one in Silicon Valley had a lobby official until after 95.
If the Regulatory State returned to what the Constitution intended, a limited govt that protects individual liberty and private property rights, capitalists could not bribe govt officials to eliminate their competitors.
Yeah, you must have a learning disorder. There have been businesses lobbying the government since before the Constitution existed. You're from Massachusetts, perhaps you should learn something about Shay's Rebellion and before the Constitution specifically, the Springfield Armory.
FrankHerbert
1.4 / 5 (9) Apr 13, 2011
He probably thinks the founding fathers eradicated slavery too. Paleocons are so cute.
ryggesogn2
1.8 / 5 (5) Apr 13, 2011
He probably thinks the founding fathers eradicated slavery too. Paleocons are so cute.

No, it was Christians in England and Christians in New England that played a significant role in ending black slavery.

FrankHerbert
1.4 / 5 (9) Apr 13, 2011
And it was Christians that instituted slavery. What's your point?
ryggesogn2
1.8 / 5 (5) Apr 13, 2011
And it was Christians that instituted slavery. What's your point?

Egyptians had Jewish slaves.
Greeks had slaves.
Rome had slaves.
Christians did not exist until ~2000 years ago.
How did Christians institute slavery?
FrankHerbert
1.4 / 5 (9) Apr 13, 2011
Oh I guess Ramses, Aristotle, and Augustus founded the United States. My bad.
ryggesogn2
1.8 / 5 (5) Apr 13, 2011
Oh I guess Ramses, Aristotle, and Augustus founded the United States. My bad.

It was the Christians in New England that kept slavery from the northern states.
FrankHerbert
1.5 / 5 (8) Apr 13, 2011
And it was Christians in the south that instituted slavery there. Christianity has nothing to do with it. Have you ever read any justifications for slavery from the time? Most if not all cite the bible.
ryggesogn2
1.7 / 5 (6) Apr 13, 2011
And it was Christians in the south that instituted slavery there. Christianity has nothing to do with it. Have you ever read any justifications for slavery from the time? Most if not all cite the bible.

"Yet all agree that Quakers and Evangelicals played a central role in the abolitionist movement,"
"Abolitionists believed that common humanity entailed equal rights, especially the right to liberty. Because liberty was a gift of the Creator, men were not free to dispose of it by selling themselves into slavery, nor could they lawfully deprive anyone else of their liberty by force."
http://www.jubile...hp?id=51