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Are humans hardwired for fairness?
Date:4/16/2008

Is fairness simply a ruse, something we adopt only when we secretly see an advantage in it for ourselves" Many psychologists have in recent years moved away from this purely utilitarian view, dismissing it as too simplistic. Recent advances in both cognitive science and neuroscience now allow psychologists to approach this question in some different ways, and they are getting some intriguing results.

UCLA psychologist Golnaz Tabibnia, and colleagues Ajay Satpute and Matthew Lieberman, used a psychological test called the ultimatum game" to explore fairness and self-interest in the laboratory. In this particular version of the test, Person A has a pot of money, say $23, which they can divide in any way they want with Person B. All Person B can do is look at the offer and accept or reject it; there is no negotiation. If Person B rejects the offer, neither of them gets any money.

Whatever Person A offers to Person B is an unearned windfall, even if its a miserly $5 out of $23, so a strict utilitarian would take the money and run. But thats not exactly what happens in the laboratory. The UCLA scientists ran the experiment so sometimes $5 was stingy and other times fair, say $5 out of a total stake of $10. The idea was to make sure the subjects were responding to the fairness of the offer, not to the amount of the windfall. When they did this, and asked the subjects to rate themselves on scales of happiness and contempt, they had some interesting findings: Even when they stood to gain exactly the same dollar amount of free money, the subjects were much happier with the fair offers and much more disdainful of deals that were lopsided and self-centered.

The psychologists wanted to know if there is something inherently rewarding about being treated decently. So, they scanned several parts of the participants brains while they were in the act of weighing both fair and miserly offers. Consistent with previous results, the researchers found th
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Contact: Catherine West
cwest@psychologicalscience.org
202-293-9300
Association for Psychological Science
Source:Eurekalert

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