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Welcome to the nexus of ethics, psychology, morality, philosophy and health care

Friday, May 26, 2017

Do the Right Thing: Preferences for Moral Behavior, Rather than Equity or Efficiency Per Se, Drive Human Prosociality

Capraro, Valerio and Rand, David G.
(May 8, 2017).


Decades of experimental research have shown that some people forgo personal gains to benefit others in unilateral one-shot anonymous interactions. To explain these results, behavioral economists typically assume that people have social preferences for minimizing inequality and/or maximizing efficiency (social welfare). Here we present data that are fundamentally incompatible with these standard social preference models. We introduce the “Trade-Off Game” (TOG), where players unilaterally choose between an equitable option and an efficient option. We show that simply changing the labeling of the options to describe the equitable versus efficient option as morally right completely reverses people’s behavior in the TOG. Moreover, people who take the positively framed action, be it equitable or efficient, are more prosocial in a separate Dictator Game (DG) and Prisoner’s Dilemma (PD). Rather than preferences for equity and/or efficiency per se, we propose a generalized morality preference that motivates people to do what they think is morally right. When one option is clearly selfish and the other pro-social (e.g. equitable and/or efficient), as in the DG and PD, the economic outcomes are enough to determine what is morally right. When one option is not clearly more prosocial than the other, as in the TOG, framing resolves the ambiguity about which choice is moral. In addition to explaining our data, this account organizes prior findings that framing impacts cooperation in the standard simultaneous PD, but not in the asynchronous PD or the DG. Thus we present a new framework for understanding the basis of human prosociality.

The paper is here.
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