Sunday, August 19, 2007

Framing Altruism

Benoit Hardy-Vallée notes that adding the sentence “Note that your opponent relies on you” increases altruistic behaviour in the Dictator Game. He concludes:
What is surprising is not that subjects are sensible to certain moral-social cues, but that such a simple cue (7 words) is sufficient. The more we know about each other, the less selfish we are.

This particular experiment doesn't really seem to have anything to do with increased knowledge, though. It's more a matter of framing: we reduce selfishness by cuing the 'responsibility' schema, so that giving is seen in a more positive light. I expect just two words would in fact suffice: "Stinginess test". Or, in the opposite direction, "Dupe test" -- I bet that title would reduce altruism dramatically.


  1. Benoit Hardy-Vallée seems to be making a very common mistake of assuming anythign that changes our decision process must be doing so for a logical reason. when in reality its mostly just as you describe.

    Rather like david blain guesing which box you are goin to choose to keep in his magic show.

  2. It's been done. Not with "Stinginess" or "Dupe" in the Dictator Game, but with a Prisoner's Dilemma titled "Wall Street Game" or "Community Game." The former led to about 1/3 cooperation, the latter about 2/3. (I can't find the original paper online, but here's a decent description.) As you said, it is about framing and schemas (or construal, as the social psychologists who conducted the study put it).


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