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Generous with individuals and selfish to the masses


Alós-Ferrer, Carlos; García-Segarra, Jaume; Ritschel, Alexander (2022). Generous with individuals and selfish to the masses. Nature Human Behaviour, 6(1):88-96.

Abstract

The seemingly rampant economic selfishness suggested by many recent corporate scandals is at odds with empirical results from behavioural economics, which demonstrate high levels of prosocial behaviour in bilateral interactions and low levels of dishonest behaviour. We design an experimental setting, the ‘Big Robber’ game, where a ‘robber’ can obtain a large personal gain by appropriating the earnings of a large group of ‘victims’. In a large laboratory experiment (N = 640), more than half of all robbers took as much as possible and almost nobody declined to rob. However, the same participants simultaneously displayed standard, predominantly prosocial behaviour in Dictator, Ultimatum and Trust games. Thus, we provide direct empirical evidence showing that individual selfishness in high-impact decisions affecting a large group is compatible with prosociality in bilateral low-stakes interactions. That is, human beings can simultaneously be generous with others and selfish with large groups.

Abstract

The seemingly rampant economic selfishness suggested by many recent corporate scandals is at odds with empirical results from behavioural economics, which demonstrate high levels of prosocial behaviour in bilateral interactions and low levels of dishonest behaviour. We design an experimental setting, the ‘Big Robber’ game, where a ‘robber’ can obtain a large personal gain by appropriating the earnings of a large group of ‘victims’. In a large laboratory experiment (N = 640), more than half of all robbers took as much as possible and almost nobody declined to rob. However, the same participants simultaneously displayed standard, predominantly prosocial behaviour in Dictator, Ultimatum and Trust games. Thus, we provide direct empirical evidence showing that individual selfishness in high-impact decisions affecting a large group is compatible with prosociality in bilateral low-stakes interactions. That is, human beings can simultaneously be generous with others and selfish with large groups.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:03 Faculty of Economics > Department of Economics
Dewey Decimal Classification:330 Economics
Scopus Subject Areas:Social Sciences & Humanities > Social Psychology
Social Sciences & Humanities > Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
Life Sciences > Behavioral Neuroscience
Scope:Discipline-based scholarship (basic research)
Language:English
Date:1 January 2022
Deposited On:30 Aug 2021 15:08
Last Modified:25 Apr 2024 01:38
Publisher:Nature Publishing Group
ISSN:2397-3374
OA Status:Green
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-021-01170-0
Other Identification Number:merlin-id:21469
  • Content: Accepted Version
  • Language: English