Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Social and anti-social anti-social behavior

Wall Street Journal - Study Finds Culture Influences Reaction To Reward, Rebuke
In the most sweeping global study yet of cooperation, a team of experimental economists tested university students in 15 countries to see how people contribute to joint ventures and what happens to them when they don't. The European research team discovered startling differences in how groups around the world react when punishment is handed out for antisocial behavior.
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Among students in the U.S., Switzerland, China and the U.K., those identified as freeloaders most often took their punishment as a spur to contribute more generously. But in Oman, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Greece and Russia, the freeloaders more often struck back, retaliating against those who punished them, even against those who had given most to everyone's benefit. It was akin to rapping the knuckles of the helping hand.

To explore cooperation across cultures, Dr. Herrmann and his colleagues recruited 1,120 college students in 16 cities around the globe for a public-good game. The exercise is one of several devised by economists in recent years to distill the complex variables of human behavior into transactions simple enough to be studied under controlled laboratory conditions.
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The students behaved the same way in all 16 cities until given the chance to punish those taking a free ride on the shared investment. Punishment was done anonymously, and it cost one token to discipline another player.
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Among those punished, differences emerged immediately. Students in Seoul, Istanbul, Minsk in Belarus, Samara in Russia, Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, Athens, and Muscat in Oman were most likely to take revenge by deducting points from other players -- and to give up a token themselves to do it.

"They didn't believe they did anything wrong," said economist Herbert Gintis at New Mexico's Santa Fe Institute. And because the spiteful freeloaders had no way of knowing who had punished them, they often took out their ire on those who helped others most, suspecting they must be to blame.
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Such a readiness to retaliate, researchers said, reflected relatively lower levels of trust, civic cooperation and the rule of law as measured by social scientists in the World Values Survey, which periodically assesses basic values and beliefs in more than 80 societies. In countries with democratic market economies, peer pressure goaded people to cooperate. Among authoritarian societies or those dominated more by ties of kinship, freeloaders instead lashed out at those who censured them, the researchers found.
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Studying peer pressure in 15 countries, economist Benedikt Herrmann at the UK's University of Nottingham reported on "Antisocial Punishment Across Societies" in Science.

The researchers also ranked the national responses against the World Values Survey, which periodically assesses values and cultural changes in societies all over the world.
Emphasis added. Thanks to The EclectEcon for the pointer.

My first-hand, though strictly anecdotal, experience in the UAE is that there is less cooperation and more free riding than in the US in team project situations. Rebukes are avoided, because they can bring about a sometimes strong reaction. And -- again, casual empiricism -- there was a lot of "they didn't believe they did anything wrong." The system is there to be gamed.

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3 Comments:

Blogger Celal Birader said...

Hi John,

Interesting study. I touched on it on my blog HERE . Leave comments if so inclined. Regards,

2:44 PM  
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