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Deliberation leads to self-interest, study suggests

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Posted November 5, 2014
Image credit: liz west via Flickr, CC BY 2.0.

Image credit: liz west via Flickr, CC BY 2.0.

People are intrinsically altruistic, but learning and deliberation leads them to act selfishly. This is the conclusion of recent studies exploring specifics of pro-social behavior. Psychologist David G. Rand and economist Gordon T. Kraft-Todd working at Yale University propose an interesting explanation for this behavioral pattern. “Strategies which are successful in daily life become automatized as intuitions. Deliberation then causes participants to adjust to the self-interested strategy in the specific setting at hand,” they claim.

American scientists relied on so called dual-process theory. According to this approach our decisions are governed by two different systems: fast and automatic system on the one hand and slow and deliberative system on the other. Dual-process perspective allowed them to develop social heuristics hypothesis.

“Specifically, the social heuristics hypothesis posits that people adopt strategies that are successful in daily life as default (automatically applied) heuristics for social interaction. In new or atypical social situations, one’s first response is to apply these heuristics. Deliberation then tailors responses to the details of the present situation,” Rand and Kraft-Todd explain. This means that rational deliberation will exert a negative effect on the cooperation of those individuals who usually are cooperative. However, this should not be the case with individuals who come from environments populated by free-riders.

Interestingly many laboratory studies show that people act altruistically even when there are no incentives to do so. For instance, they are altruistic during one-shot dilemmas despite the fact that they will never play against other players again. According to social heuristics theory cooperative behavior observed during such laboratory studies is an outcome of a simple mistake. It is rational to cooperate outside the laboratory, because interactions are repeated.Consequently, pro-social behavior is internalized and becomes automatic.

Cooperative behavior in one-shot interactions is a misapplication of a strategy which is tailored for repeated interactions. If this hypothesis is correct, players who have at least some experience with laboratory studies should not be affected by deliberation as well.

“We extended earlier results by showing that time pressure increased cooperation in a social dilemma only among participants who were both naïve and trusting. We then showed that promoting intuition had no effect on cooperation when the conflict between individual and collective incentives was removed (by making contribution individually payoff maximizing). These results confirm our predictions generated by the social heuristics hypothesis, and provide evidence that deliberation undermines cooperation in social dilemmas specifically by leading participants toward self-interest,” the researchers report.

Article: Rand D., Kraft-Todd G., 2014, Reflection does not undermine self-interested prosociality , Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, source link.

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