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Tuesday, October 11, 2016

When fairness matters less than we expect

Gus Cooney, Daniel T. Gilbert, and Timothy D. Wilson
PNAS 2016 ; published ahead of print September 16, 2016

Abstract

Do those who allocate resources know how much fairness will matter to those who receive them? Across seven studies, allocators used either a fair or unfair procedure to determine which of two receivers would receive the most money. Allocators consistently overestimated the impact that the fairness of the allocation procedure would have on the happiness of receivers (studies 1–3). This happened because the differential fairness of allocation procedures is more salient before an allocation is made than it is afterward (studies 4 and 5). Contrary to allocators’ predictions, the average receiver was happier when allocated more money by an unfair procedure than when allocated less money by a fair procedure (studies 6 and 7). These studies suggest that when allocators are unable to overcome their own preallocation perspectives and adopt the receivers’ postallocation perspectives, they may allocate resources in ways that do not maximize the net happiness of receivers.

Significance

Human beings care a great deal about the fairness of the procedures that are used to allocate resources, such as wealth, opportunity, and power. But in a series of experiments, we show that those to whom resources are allocated often care less about fairness than those who allocate the resources expect them to. This “allocator’s illusion” results from the fact that fairness seems more important before an allocation is made (when allocators are choosing a procedure) than afterward (when receivers are reacting to the procedure that allocators chose). This illusion has important consequences for policy-makers, managers, health care providers, judges, teachers, parents, and others who are charged with choosing the procedures by which things of value will be allocated.

The article is here.
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