Study results suggest people are less cooperative in unequal societies when wealth inequality is evident

Visible wealth makes economic inequality worse, experiments show
Credit: A. Reese and A. Ro
(—A team of researchers at Yale University has conducted an online virtual experiment designed to better understand behavior patterns among people in a society as it relates to wealth inequality. In their paper published in the journal Nature, the team describes their study and results and offer suggestions on how it may relate to the real world.

Do people treat each other differently or cooperate differently with other people if they know that the other person is more or less well off than they are? Anecdotal evidence would suggest that this is likely the case, but proving it is difficult. To learn more, the researchers asked for help from 1,460 online participants–volunteers who agreed to take part in a virtual society . The idea was that participants could cooperate with others by giving them virtual cash, making things better for everyone. But unbeknownst to the , several factors were controlled by the researchers, such as how much virtual cash each player started with, allowing for unequal distribution. Also during some games, players were able to see how much cash everyone had, while in other games, they only knew how much they had, making it impossible to compare themselves with others. In any case, were told that at the completion of the game, they would be able to redeem their for real world money.

In studying the results, the researchers found that players that had more money than others, and knew it, tended to be less cooperative—hoarding their money for a big payoff when the game ended. Such players often also benefited from donations given by other players more willing to cooperate by giving to everyone. On the other hand, when players had more virtual money than others, but did not know it, they tended to be just as generous as those that had less money. Thus, the researchers concluded, it was the knowledge of having more wealth that caused those with more money to be more stingy.

How the game relates to real life is of course, a matter of conjecture—the researchers suggest that because game players knew they were going to get real money as a payoff at that end, it meant they behaved in a real way, but at the same time acknowledge that when setting up such an experiment there is going to be trade-offs. In this case, that meant taking education level, race and other such factors out of the equation, allowing for measuring only cooperation degree when known inequality existed.

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More information: Inequality and visibility of wealth in experimental social networks, Nature (2015) DOI: 10.1038/nature15392

Humans prefer relatively equal distributions of resources, yet societies have varying degrees of economic inequality6. To investigate some of the possible determinants and consequences of inequality, here we perform experiments involving a networked public goods game in which subjects interact and gain or lose wealth. Subjects (n = 1,462) were randomly assigned to have higher or lower initial endowments, and were embedded within social networks with three levels of economic inequality (Gini coefficient = 0.0, 0.2, and 0.4). In addition, we manipulated the visibility of the wealth of network neighbours. We show that wealth visibility facilitates the downstream consequences of initial inequality—in initially more unequal situations, wealth visibility leads to greater inequality than when wealth is invisible. This result reflects a heterogeneous response to visibility in richer versus poorer subjects. We also find that making wealth visible has adverse welfare consequences, yielding lower levels of overall cooperation, inter-connectedness, and wealth. High initial levels of economic inequality alone, however, have relatively few deleterious welfare effects.

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Journal information: Nature

© 2015

Citation: Study results suggest people are less cooperative in unequal societies when wealth inequality is evident (2015, September 10) retrieved 16 June 2019 from
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Sep 10, 2015
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Sep 10, 2015
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Sep 10, 2015
People play games differently to real life regardless of the real world payoff. Slot machines and other gambling games of all kinds pay out and take real money yet the majority of people play these as games. In the real world, most people who play gambling games in casinos would not bet or risk money.

This extinguishes the idea that simply paying real money makes people behave as they would in the real world. This was also shown empirically when standard game theory games (Ultimatum, Public Goods & Dictator Games) were trialled on isolated communities who have little contact with the outside world. Their responses to the game was completely different to the well established responses of modern western subjects.

See the paper: "'Economic Man' in Cross-cultural Perspective:
Behavioral Experiments in 15 Small-scale Societies" by Joseph Henrich et al.

Sep 13, 2015
Conservatism = Selfishness

Selfishness is the very base of conservatism.

Sep 14, 2015
Selfishness is the very base of conservatism.
"You are not held back from any of your desires by guilt or shame, and you are never confronted by others for your cold-bloodedness... they seldom even guess at your condition.

"In other words, you are completely free of internal restraints, and your unhampered liberty to do just as you please, with no pangs of conscience, is conveniently invisible to the world...

"Those who have no conscience at all are a group unto themselves, whether they be homicidal tyrants or merely ruthless social snipers.

"... the remarkable ease with which [psychopaths] lie, the pervasiveness of their deception, and the callousness with which they carry it out.

"guiltlessly lying to one's boss about a coworker.... it is chilling. Simple and profound, the link is the absence of the inner mechanism that beats up on us, emotionally speaking, when we make a choice we view as immoral, unethical, neglectful, or selfish."

Sep 14, 2015
A psychopaths political views are entirely dependent on how those views personally benefit the psychopath.

Sep 15, 2015
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Sep 15, 2015
Can somebody help otto get the help he so severely needs? He tells us and tells us about psychopathy, with the broadest of hints.

It's hilarious, how a person can be so completely captured by another. He's like the ants with fungi growing out of their heads, being dominated by one impulse. It is monomania in the old books, but they probably have more specific and complex nomenclature now.

Sep 16, 2015
"Psychopaths view any social exchange as a "feeding opportunity," a contest or a test of wills in which there can be only one winner. Their motives are to manipulate and take, ruthlessly and without remorse.

"they are cool under pressure, unfazed by the possibility of being found out, and totally ruthless. And even when they are exposed, they can carry on as if nothing has happened, often making their accusers the targets of accusations of being victimized by THEM."

-I hate psychopaths.

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