Join 3,428 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)

Tags:

Study says it's true of Econ and Business students, not so much for Humanities (or Lawyers)
December 20, 2012 12:41 AM   Subscribe

Research Says: Studying Economics Turns You Into a Liar The researchers ultimately ran their test on 258 students from various majors, including business, economics, the humanities, sciences, law, among others. And there was a clear gap: even though a large portion of students lied from every field, economics and business students lied a much more often than everybody else. As shown in the table below, just 22.8 percent of them honestly reported the colors of the flashing circles, even when it cost them that extra euro. More than half of humanities students, on the other hand, were honest. Same went for law students, who appeared to play against type. (They also claim that the *study* made the difference and not just the type of student that signed up for that kind of study.)
posted by aleph (80 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
No, it makes you economical with the truth.
posted by UbuRoivas at 12:43 AM on December 20, 2012 [23 favorites]


It's good to see that engineers lie their teeth off. Practical bunch.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 12:47 AM on December 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Oh, engineers. I thought it was English students.

Also, I wonder how just philosophers would compare to other humanities.
posted by cthuljew at 12:51 AM on December 20, 2012


Well, ethicists are notorious book thieves...
posted by and so but then, we at 12:54 AM on December 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Do Economists Lie More? (PDF)
Recent experimental evidence suggests that some people dislike telling
lies, and tell the truth even at a cost. We use experiments as well to study the
socio-demographic covariates of such lie aversion, and find gender and religiosity
to be without predictive value. However, subjects’ major is predictive: Business
and Economics (B&E) subjects lie significantly more frequently than other
majors. This is true even after controlling for subjects’ beliefs about the overall
rate of deception, which predict behavior very well: Although B&E subjects
expect most others to lie in our decision problem, the effect of major remains. An
instrumental variables analysis suggests that the effect is not simply one of
selection: It seems that studying B&E has a causal impact on behavior.
posted by Blasdelb at 12:55 AM on December 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


It's good to see that engineers lie their teeth off. Practical bunch.

We don't call "lying". We call it "optimising".

(As in "I optimised the test results.")
posted by Skeptic at 12:58 AM on December 20, 2012 [11 favorites]


More seriously, it's a pity that the study didn't specifically research med students. Being a practiced and convincing liar is a basic medical skill.
posted by Skeptic at 1:02 AM on December 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


Poor stupid honest biologists.
posted by fshgrl at 1:08 AM on December 20, 2012 [10 favorites]


Does studying business and economics make you lie more, or do students who sign up to study business and economics lie more?
posted by dunkadunc at 1:18 AM on December 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


Does studying business and economics make you lie more, or do students who sign up to study business and economics lie more?

From the article:

But did studying economics make students more rationally dishonest, or were rationally dishonest students just more likely to study econ? To try and get the answer, Lopez-Perez and Spiegelman whipped out a statistical technique known as an "instrumental variable" analysis that economists frequently use to prove causation. Once the math was done, they concluded simply: "Economists lie more in our study in part because they have learned to do so."
posted by YAMWAK at 1:27 AM on December 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ever hear the joke about the lying economist?

No? Well, neither have I. But we might need to come up with one.


A priest, a lawyer, and an economist walk into a bar.

After a few drinks, they ask for the bill, and the bartender gives them a bill for much less than what they drank. The priest says "It's a miracle!". The lawyer says "If we push it, we could get an even smaller bill." And the economist says, "The market has spoken."
posted by twoleftfeet at 1:34 AM on December 20, 2012 [20 favorites]


Yeah, I'm sort of curious about the statistics here. But all they include by way of explanation is a Wikipedia link — and Wikipedia math articles are not human-readable.
posted by and so but then, we at 1:35 AM on December 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


Lol, the only thing more predictable than this is Mefi's reaction to it.

That said, the first year economics I have been unfortunate enough to witness is nearly all neoliberal "orthodoxy"; when you soak impressionable minds in a vision of a world premised almost wholly on 'rational' self-interest, what can you expect?

What would be interesting is to slice it up with graduates, instead, and by profession, by age, by gender etc.
posted by smoke at 1:45 AM on December 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Economists are not just liars for the sake of lying or winning an argument or whatever, but "more apt to lie for financial gain." Economists are more likely than others to choose profit before truth. Which of course explains things like climate change denial; if stopping global warming were profitable, economists would be leading the charge to save the planet.

I wonder whether economists are also more likely to marry for money? I guess you would just need some stats on the personal (or family) worth and expected lifetime income of people with various majors before they married.
posted by pracowity at 1:55 AM on December 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


In a non-scientific, non-placebo-controlled, unrandomized survey conducted while selling weed in college, this author observed that business majors were twice as likely as humanities majors to ask if I knew where to get any cocaine. They were also more likely to complain about product weight, even though postal scales demonstrating actual weight were employed. In addition, this author notes that the only individual who had to be forcibly restrained from assaulting his vendor was, in fact, a member of a fraternity known for wealth and privilege and that after I broke his nose he cried like a baby and said his daddy would sue me, an eventuality this author has yet to see realized.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 1:59 AM on December 20, 2012 [191 favorites]


bitteroldpunk, that's a Mefite's Choice comment right there.
posted by dunkadunc at 2:01 AM on December 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Reading the appendix, it appears there was no reason to tell the truth -- no reason to believe lying would harm the scientist's experiment, or affect the receiver. In fact, with mutual knowledge of the game, it's not clear that a false signal should actually be called lying except in the most pedantic way. So it would be more accurate to say that econ and business students are more likely to send a false signal when it helps them, when the signal has no use to anybody in any way, and when it does not affect their reputation. I don't buy the authors' dismissal of exogeneity either. However, I do believe that education in these majors will push people towards rational choices under some circumstances.

Also, strange that 10% did not understand the experiment and lied to their own detriment. I await the replications.
posted by helot at 2:02 AM on December 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


I wonder whether economists are also more likely to marry for money?

Or something else. I was so traumatized by reading the sex diaries of John Maynard Keynes that I considered not investing in anything for several years.
posted by twoleftfeet at 2:05 AM on December 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


Looking at the data table, it looks like the sample sizes are way too small to draw any meaningful conclusions... it's an amusing study nonetheless.
posted by spiderskull at 2:07 AM on December 20, 2012


The article and the paper seem to consider two reasons for this phenomenon: (1) econ students have learned to lie in self interest from their econ programs, or (2) that students who choose econ naturally are more likely to lie.

It seems to me that there is a third possibility. Whenever you lie, there is a psychological calculation that takes place. There is a psychological cost of lying C_L, which is the mental valuation a person places on the truth minus the mental valuation a person places on lying. Then there is the psychological value of 1 Euro, C_€.

The calculation that takes place is this:

L = C_€ - C_L
If L > 0, then lie. Otherwise, tell the truth.

This paper seems to assume that C_€ is identical in all people, but C_L varies from person to person, but that seems silly to me. Surely someone who is starving would have a much greater C_€ than a billionaire, or someone who grew up to disdain material wealth might have a smaller C_€ than someone who grew up idolizing investment bankers.

The conclusion that they seem not to have considered is that economists and humanities majors on average have the same mental aversion to lying (C_L), but economists mentally value money more highly (C_€).

One could try to probe this conclusion by looking for correlations between income or wealth and lying rates, or maybe between some quantified measure of attitude towards money and lying rates.

I'm not claiming that conclusion will hold true, but it's worth considering.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 2:15 AM on December 20, 2012 [13 favorites]


"Looking at the data table, it looks like the sample sizes are way too small to draw any meaningful conclusions... it's an amusing study nonetheless."

If you read the paper, the authors did all the statistics necessary for you. Their sample size was indeed only just large enough to demonstrate the claims they are actually making.
posted by Blasdelb at 2:20 AM on December 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


"One could try to probe this conclusion by looking for correlations between income or wealth and lying rates, or maybe between some quantified measure of attitude towards money and lying rates."

Higher social class predicts increased unethical behavior [FULL TEXT, PNAS]
Seven studies using experimental and naturalistic methods reveal that upper-class individuals behave more unethically than lower-class individuals. In studies 1 and 2, upper-class individuals were more likely to break the law while driving, relative to lower-class individuals. In follow-up laboratory studies, upper-class individuals were more likely to exhibit unethical decision-making tendencies (study 3), take valued goods from others (study 4), lie in a negotiation (study 5), cheat to increase their chances of winning a prize (study 6), and endorse unethical behavior at work (study 7) than were lower-class individuals. Mediator and moderator data demonstrated that upper-class individuals’ unethical tendencies are accounted for, in part, by their more favorable attitudes toward greed.
posted by Blasdelb at 2:22 AM on December 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


Blasdelb: Those are interesting, but from reading the abstract, those studies don't seem to be able to be able to separate the effect of the valuation of the reward from the effect of the valuation of the unethical behavior.

It's still possible, to take the first example in the abstract you linked, that upper and lower class people are equally aversive of speeding or running red lights, it's just that upper class people place a higher valuation on decreasing transit time. Either way the scales get tipped towards upper class people behaving worse, but it's not clear why the scales tipped.

Again, I don't necessarily think that's the case, but I don't think those studies can distinguish between the two possibilities.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 2:30 AM on December 20, 2012


Economists are more likely to make fake videos of eagles snatching babies.
posted by Joey Michaels at 2:43 AM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Salvador Hardin: It's still possible, to take the first example in the abstract you linked, that upper and lower class people are equally aversive of speeding or running red lights, it's just that upper class people place a higher valuation on decreasing transit time. Either way the scales get tipped towards upper class people behaving worse, but it's not clear why the scales tipped.

That's... the same thing in practice, though. If you attach consistently higher values to the ends of the behaviour, that is the same thing as attaching lower value (or aversion) to the behaviour. Think of it as value-inflation. Sure, you still hate speeding with 5 AVUs (arbitrary value units), but that just isn't as much if everything else is measured in hundreds of AVUs as it is if everything else is measured in fractions of an AVU.

(edit for early-morning brainfart typos)
posted by Dysk at 3:09 AM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Any purely rational, self-interested person would lie for the money. But people who had an emotional ethical aversion to dishonesty might not.
posted by Segundus at 3:26 AM on December 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


My guess is that if an intellectual framework lets you rationalise a behaviour you might otherwise think is sketchy or disagreeable, you're more likely to put those objections aside. And economics, particularly Austrian/Chicago-school economics, can be useful for rationalising unethical or antisocial self-enriching behaviour.
posted by acb at 3:30 AM on December 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


Research Says: Studying Economics Turns You Into a Liar


It did not. It did grow my hair back, let me catch a 37 pound bass, and gave me amazing endurance in the sack, but it did not turn me into a liar. Just ask my wife...Morgan Fairchild.
posted by eriko at 3:42 AM on December 20, 2012 [10 favorites]


Wikipedia math articles are not human-readable.

I really wish Wikipedia would give you a toggle to simpler versions on articles of scientific merit. Maybe even a few; Non-native speaker, Math is Hard, I've Been Out Of School For 20 Years, PHD Candidate.
posted by DigDoug at 4:04 AM on December 20, 2012 [6 favorites]


Mmmm. I do quite dislike the flashy use of the word "honesty" in this paper.

I just skimmed the article, but is political affiliation really a valid instrument here? It seems that Eng. / Econ. students might already have a tendency towards "maximizing" behaviour before their study. The authors seem to acknowledge this in the I.V. section - and then handwave about how people should be expected to be equally "honest" across the political spectrum.

Anecdotally -- I taught game theory to undergrad economics students for a couple of years -- I've observed students tending to select increasingly "rational" / self-interested strategies in in-class games over the course of a term of study. Personally, I think there's something going on in terms of how the student frames the game. That is: I think the result may be that people's behavior in these games changes with exposure to these games. Perhaps engineers and economics students have been more exposed to the kind of little puzzle used in this experiment.

Whether or not being more familiar with these kinds of toy games affects your general ethical behaviour is I think a more interesting question but I think not quite established here.
posted by ~ at 4:05 AM on December 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Does economics train liars, or attract them?
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:07 AM on December 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


That said, I probably wouldn't blink at the statement that economics and business students will lie more for profit without any accompanying research.
posted by ~ at 4:08 AM on December 20, 2012


Sean M., I think we can agree the answer is "yes". But it also trains them to lie in little toy games, which may or may not be the same.
posted by ~ at 4:09 AM on December 20, 2012


Look, I've spent my life hovering around the periphery of wealth.

I went to a private high school with rich kids, because I got a scholarship. I went to college because my dad sold his share of a company he built and suddenly had boocoodles of money. I still worked work-study jobs, and on holidays and summers I ran cranes in a warehouse. I was raised comfortably middle class, but I got to see what REAL wealth looked like. I worked in really good restaurants. Like, REALLY good.

Rich people scheme.

It's that simple. Rich people will think nothing of chartering a private jet to go see a football game, but they'll scream bloody murder if you try to sell them a bottle of champagne for ten bucks more than they can buy it at the wine store. Rich people know the price of everything.

Rich people plot.

They lay traps. They plan to make others fail.

Anyone who pops their head up gets it sliced off.

There's a brilliant bit in an early Simpsons episode where Bill Gates shuts down Homer's nascent Internet business with the words "how'd you think I got rich? WRITING CHECKS?"

It's fucking true.

And so for every shark there's a thousand remoras.

Which reinforces their paranoia. You want to know wealth? Sell them drugs. Rich people love drugs.They have an endless appetite. Ever see a woman do a red wine and cocaine enema? I have. And she was in the New York Times social pages the following month for her contributions to charity. Which amounted to a tenth, hell, a fiftieth of the money she'd spent on drugs in a week.

Here's the secret about "class warfare": WE'VE ALREADY FUCKING LOST.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 4:10 AM on December 20, 2012 [56 favorites]


does it actually turn you into a liar, or are dishonest, greedy people just more likely to lie? In order to say "studying economics turns you into a liar" you'd need to test people as freshmen, then test them again when they graduate.

I think it would be interesting to see if they actually lie more, or are just more likely to lie for money. So they could try different inducements, like are humanities majors more likely to lie for love? Are math majors more likely to lie to make someone else think they're smart?
posted by delmoi at 4:12 AM on December 20, 2012


"The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers economists."
posted by Pudhoho at 4:16 AM on December 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Are math majors more likely to lie to make someone else think they're smart?

Math majors hang around in Lie groups.
posted by twoleftfeet at 4:16 AM on December 20, 2012 [8 favorites]


I regret making that comment. But now it's done.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 4:16 AM on December 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


Rules are for the poor, then?
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:22 AM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Pretty much. The failure to prosecute banksters speaks for itself. They are above the law.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 4:25 AM on December 20, 2012 [5 favorites]


"We Have An Army. We Own The Police. We Are Prepared for Class Warfare. Are you?"
posted by acb at 4:31 AM on December 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


ECONOMIC WISDOM

A poem

Buy LowSell High
posted by twoleftfeet at 4:45 AM on December 20, 2012


Remember kids...Economics ≠ Accounting, though their course of studies overlaps greatly.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:48 AM on December 20, 2012


BitterOldPunk: would you consider the possibility that as a drug dealer you were perhaps not seeing a ...representative sample of that income level?

I'd suggest that their are assholes and sociopaths at every income level, just that those with means have a greater safety net, and so the ability to cause more significant damage over time.
posted by percor at 4:49 AM on December 20, 2012


Not the most rigorous paper ever. Apart from the small samples, if I read the instructions correctly, subjects chose once with their choice making a difference of 1 euro. It would be interesting to see the results if the experiment was repeated with a payout of 50, 100 and 500 euros (as if). If we accept the framing of the results of the experiment, I'd be more concerned that 6/10 participants in total lied.
posted by ersatz at 4:58 AM on December 20, 2012


It did not. It did grow my hair back, let me catch a 37 pound bass, and gave me amazing endurance in the sack, but it did not turn me into a liar. Just ask my wife...Morgan Fairchild.

Whom I've slept with!
posted by Elementary Penguin at 5:05 AM on December 20, 2012


Same went for law students, who appeared to play against type.

Not at all. Lawyers don't lie. We might not mention facts that go against our argument, of course. But when directly questioned, lawyers - or good lawyers, anyway - tell the truth. It's part of the job.
posted by mightygodking at 5:21 AM on December 20, 2012 [9 favorites]


So, the gist is that if there is no personal consequence to lying, then lying is OK? As in, I can lie about bovine growth hormones on the news because lying in this fashion will not result in me losing my job? I can lie about seeing the warning signs for the global financial crisis because when it happens my status will not be affected?

I guess Ethics classes have sure changed since I was in school.
posted by Vindaloo at 5:32 AM on December 20, 2012


Lying and ethical behavior are two different things. It is not unethical to lie (bluff) in poker, and one would expect that people who understand business/econ would be more likely to know when a bluff might work. And I imagine that's the frame of reference from which they were approaching this study.

I think you'd find different results if you created a study that tested ethics versus major. Most of the economics people I know are scrupulous, almost to a fault.
posted by gjc at 5:34 AM on December 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


MetaFilter: I regret making that comment. But now it's done.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 5:36 AM on December 20, 2012 [7 favorites]


Oooooooh! A fixed point tagline!
posted by ~ at 5:38 AM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Good point gjc. However the question that really troubles me, from above is: if lying poses no negative consequence, why tell the truth? In the context of "self interest" then the answer is that "truth" vs "lie" doesn't matter, what matters only is the consequences of the telling. It's particularly troubling also to think that this is something that may be being taught in school, as opposed to in the workplace; I would view that as some sort of regression on ethics.

Or maybe it's just me being pessimistic.
posted by Vindaloo at 6:34 AM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Here's the secret about "class warfare": WE'VE ALREADY FUCKING LOST.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 4:10 AM on December 20 [22 favorites −] Favorite added! [!]


Eponystorrect!
posted by DigDoug at 7:07 AM on December 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


A priest, a lawyer, and an economist walk into a bar.

A rich kid, a humanities student, a pre-law student, an engineer, and economist are walking down the street and they see a hundred dollar bill on the ground.

The rich kid picks it up without a thought and tries to keep on walking.

The humanities student says, "Wait, what are you doing? Why should you get to keep it? What are the implications of this? We should do what's right not just go by who was quickest to act."

The rich kid is angry. "What do you mean, 'we'? You guys had your chance."

The pre-law student nods then shakes his head and makes a 50/50 gesture with his hand. "I can see both sides. We need to be fair."

The engineering student sighs. "This is dumb. We didn't have a system set up beforehand to handle this situation, and I know the ones you guys are going to propose will suck because people suck. Here, give it to me—problem solved."

The economist says, "Interesting," then watches everyone's reaction as he pockets the money himself.
posted by fleacircus at 7:17 AM on December 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


Seconding what BitterOldPunk said.

I was raised in a pretty similar setting and waiting tables is another place where the type of behavior mentioned shined. Waiting tables near the beach in Gulf Shores NOBODY wanted to wait on the Mercedes that just parked outside. Why, they must be rich right?

Because they have money. I'm going to suppose they didn't get said money by being generous people (a la the Bill Gates writing checks comment). That meant nine times out of ten you were getting a shitty tip, service quality be damned.

There was also a noticeable correlation between the mood and demeanor of the family who was going to the beach in their beater van and ragged jean shorts vs. the rich family from Michigan with 2 kids dressed in Polo, Mom with blood red lipstick and a white sweater and flawless nails, Dad not removing his sunglasses for the whole meal unless it was to check his blackberry, and both parents drinking gin and tonics or bloody marys like it was going out of style. The former family would have fun and laugh with each other while I couldn't help but think that the latter were like some approximation of the Russian Czars, meaning they couldn't wait to backstab or lie on one another and wouldn't hesitate in doing so and in the meantime they were practicing the art of being aloof and snide to everyone, including each other.

Blech, it's an ugly thought but let's just say I'm not surprised that people in the more fiscally successful majors might be, say it ain't so, less morally sound in their actions.
posted by RolandOfEld at 7:17 AM on December 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


> BitterOldPunk: would you consider the possibility that as a drug dealer you were perhaps not seeing a ...representative sample of that income level? I'd suggest that their are assholes and sociopaths at every income level, just that those with means have a greater safety net, and so the ability to cause more significant damage over time.

College students at every socioeconomic level buy pot. But it was usually the rich kids who were jerks who accused our fellow MeFite of cheating them, even in the face of objective evidence to the contrary. Are you suggesting that there are a disproportional number of jerks among rich potsmoking students versus middle-class and poor potsmoking students?

I don't see what the safety net of wealth is buying them in this scenario other than the right to add unpleasantness into the exchange for no goddamn reason. The only plausible risk is that their dealer will say fuck off, buy from someone else. So, their jerkiness proves that...uh, transactional relationships are transactional. Whoopee.
posted by desuetude at 7:39 AM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Waiting tables near the beach in Gulf Shores NOBODY wanted to wait on the Mercedes that just parked outside.

Once again giving me an opportunity to trot this out:
What's the difference between a porcupine and a Mercedes?



The porcupine has the pricks on the outside!

And twoleftfeet's comment upthread about John Maynard Keynes's sex diaries has made the fact that I once stayed next to his room at the Mt. Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods infinitely more intriguing (he was not staying there at the time; it had been marked with a plaque).
posted by TedW at 8:04 AM on December 20, 2012


Are you suggesting that there are a disproportional number of jerks among rich potsmoking students versus middle-class and poor potsmoking students?

I think it's likely that there's a disproportionate number of jerks among the obviously rich. A lot of the trappings of wealth are excellent jerk barometers, but there's also a non-zero number of wealthy people who don't wear their money and privilege on their sleeves and who present as essentially (upper) middle class for the most part. Part of the reason the rich drug buyers seem disproportionately like jerks is that anyone who wants you to know that they're rich is almost certainly a jerk, whereas with Warren Buffett's hypothetical pot-buying, non-jerk son you might not ever know that his net worth is 1000 times as much as the guy in a $3000 suit screaming at you about rigged scales.
posted by Copronymus at 8:24 AM on December 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


I really wish Wikipedia would give you a toggle to simpler versions on articles of scientific merit. Maybe even a few; Non-native speaker, Math is Hard, I've Been Out Of School For 20 Years, PHD Candidate.

There is the aptly named "simple" English language version of Wikipedia, as in simple.wikipedia.org. Just replace the "en." with "simple." to see if there is a corresponding page in simple English.

Sadly, there is no simplified version of Instrumental variable there.
posted by Foolhardy at 8:26 AM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Interesting. There's also a seminal paper by Robert Frank on the ways that studying economics inhibits cooperation. Econ undergraduate/grad students tend to defect more in prisoner dilemma situations and pool less money into shared investments.

link
posted by neil pierce at 8:45 AM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Holy cow. That's exactly what I was after

simple. - Travelling Salesman Problem ~31K
en. - Travelling Salesman Problem ~130K
posted by DigDoug at 8:46 AM on December 20, 2012


Can I trust this research? It was condcted by economists after all....
posted by asra at 8:49 AM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


if lying poses no negative consequence, why tell the truth? In the context of "self interest" then the answer is that "truth" vs "lie" doesn't matter, what matters only is the consequences of the telling.

Huh. I bet this is a side-effect of internalizing the rational actor as one's decision-making model.

In After Virtue, MacIntyre writes about how there's a difference between positing moral emotivism and internalizing it. That is to say, it's one thing to theorize that the proposition "murder is wrong" amounts to nothing more than a strongly expressed version of "I don't like murder", and it's another thing to actually live under the belief that emotivism is true. The theory is that even if emotivism were true, the awareness of the fact of emotivism's truth changes one's moral calculus.

I wonder if the same thing isn't going on here.
posted by gauche at 9:10 AM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sadly, there is no simplified version of Instrumental variable there.

Here:

You want to know the effect of major on lying. Problem! Maybe econ majors cause lying, or maybe being a liar makes you choose econ! OH NOES! ENDOGENEITY: WE HAS IT. How can we tell the difference?

Instrumental variables approaches say that what you do is look for some other variable(s) that predicts being an econ major, but shouldn't be caused by being a liar.

The next step is to use these variables to predict your major, so that for every student you have their actual major and the major you predicted for them from these other variables.

Finally, you throw away the actual data on their major and use the predicted values instead. The basic idea is that you pretend that the predicted majors are their "true" majors, but with the sin of endogeneity purged away by the holy fire of the IV approach.

In this case, their instruments were political attitudes. I gather that the idea is that being a conservative makes you more likely to choose an econ major, but being a liar doesn't make you more likely to be conservative. To a first approximation, this means that they treated conservative humanities majors as if they were econ majors and liberal econ majors as if they were humanities majors.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:21 AM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


One possibly confounding variable is the fact that economists spend a fair bit of time thinking about and learning about little experiments of exactly this type. So it's possible they are viewing the exercise as exactly an experiment about rational value whereas the experimenters were looking at it as an experiment about ethics.
posted by flug at 9:29 AM on December 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


when you soak impressionable minds in a vision of a world premised almost wholly on 'rational' self-interest, what can you expect?

The funny thing about this--which does seem to be at least partly true as a mindset among business people and business students of a certain sort--is that it is always a very, very short-term sort of self-interest that is pursued.

From a math perspective (which economists ought to understand--right? Right!??) all effort is expended chasing the nearest local maximum--meaning that you're almost certain to miss the actual global maximum which may be much, much higher but would require a different and more broad-thinking approach.

Just for example, learning to lie about this and that could easily make you a few bucks here and there, or maybe even a lot of bucks, but it could also poison all of your personal friendships and relationships--which might be of greater value to you long-term than the extra money you might make moment to moment by lying.

Or putting in more of a business perspective, what would happen if we trained our business majors to spend most of their time and effort maximizing profit over a 5-10 year time frame rather than just going for current year maximum profitability, which seems to be the norm right now.

It seems to me that if even medium-term thinking--5-10 year planning horizon--became the norm it would turn our entire economy on its head.

That's what this study makes me think about: When you train people think a certain way and approach problems a certain way, it really does work--for good or for ill.
posted by flug at 9:43 AM on December 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


Because they have money. I'm going to suppose they didn't get said money by being generous people (a la the Bill Gates writing checks comment). That meant nine times out of ten you were getting a shitty tip, service quality be damned.

You know, I've noticed something interesting: the more money I make, and the more money my friends make, the more my friends chide me for tipping too much. You'd think it would be the other way around.
posted by davejay at 10:09 AM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


This might explain much about our 'beloved' leader...
posted by jkaczor at 11:32 AM on December 20, 2012


I had something to contribute earlier, but it's been wiped by WHAT THE FUCK IS A RED WINE AND COCAINE ENEMA?
posted by cromagnon at 12:09 PM on December 20, 2012


You don't just say Red Wine and Cocaine enema and walk away. You have to at least tell us what grape so we can be judgemental!
posted by srboisvert at 12:13 PM on December 20, 2012


Or putting in more of a business perspective, what would happen if we trained our business majors to spend most of their time and effort maximizing profit over a 5-10 year time frame rather than just going for current year maximum profitability, which seems to be the norm right now.

The capital owners want to maximize profitability today to minimize uncertainty. The more uncertain the future of an industry is the more important profitability today is. At a micro level its actually rational for them to think like that. At a macro level its not very smart.

The more enduring a business is likely to be the easier it is to run it for the long-term

The flipside of it is that when valuing assets the more uncertain future cash flows are the more the market extrapolates near term changes in cashflows in valuing a business.
posted by JPD at 12:37 PM on December 20, 2012


This study is pretty silly. All it proves is that Economics students (and likely, any other student who has ever taken a class in game theory) are more likely to see the scenario for what it is: a game. The rules of the game state that, if you answer green, you get more money. That's not a lie.

It's like the card game B.S. Part of the game is putting down the wrong card and claiming it's the right card. That's not lying. If you tell everyone you're putting down the wrong card when you do, that doesn't make you a good person or a good game player. The rules are written such that you are expected to make statements that are not true. That doesn't make them lies. For them to be lies, there would have to be an expectation that you were telling the truth.

People who have studied game theory are just more likely to recognize the study for what it is: A test of rationality. Are you able to recognize this is a game and give the "correct" answer? If so, we will pay you.

If they told the subjects that the color was important for X reason (e.g., they were the results of a scientific test and lying would alter the data) I expect the "lying" would drastically decrease.
posted by kingjoeshmoe at 12:38 PM on December 20, 2012 [3 favorites]


You have to at least tell us what grape

Cocaine/Wine enema? Only the top of the line wine!
posted by P.o.B. at 1:41 PM on December 20, 2012


I often wonder, when reading social psych experiments like these, to what extent they're actually measuring subject's desire to influence the outcome of the study itself rather than some broader truth. In this case, where the purpose of the study is transparent and the in-game consequences are negligible, that seems a much more plausible motivation than any sort of internalized norms or actual attempts to maximize payoff.

How many in the honest group responded honestly because they want the results of the study to indicate that people like them are honest? How many in the maximizing group answered in that way because they want (or expect) studies of this kind to show people working to maximize payout? That may be useful information of some kind, but it seems pretty far removed from conclusion about norms regarding "lying." (Which, as helot points out above, seems like a misleading word to use here anyway.)

Putting myself in the shoes of one of the test subjects, I can imagine thinking about the response in one of two ways.

The first is, "I want these kinds of experiments to be reliable, because good science is something I care about. So I'm going to pretend that the consequences matter and answer as though the actual experimental conditions weren't a farce, and as though I didn't understand the point of the experiment and what sort of analysis will likely be applied." This is clearly what every paper I've read in the field assumes, implicitly.

The second is, "an expectation of 0.25 Euro means so little to me, I'm going to answer in a way that's I find interesting, or amusing, or that influences the results in a way that is consistent with my world view."

In this specific case, I have a feeling I'd respond with the pathological (B,G) strategy, with the implicit message "this game is so obviously contrived, and the results so disconnected from real world behavior, that I'm not going to pretend to take it seriously." Which, no doubt, says something about my psychology and the way I behave when facing economic and ethical decisions of consequence. . . but not what the researchers assume.

Still, the results are interesting, if taken at face value. The most surprising thing, it seems to me, is the lack of a correlation with religion. As someone who spends a fair bit of time defending the ethics of an atheist world view, I can't decide whether to be heartened or saddened that the irreligious are just as likely to internalize moral norms and behave in ways that are irrational even when tests are jiggered to insure there are no negative consequences for anyone. I'd love to see a set of free-form responses where participants are asked to explain their motivation for choices; I'm having a tough time coming up with a motivation for not lying in this case that doesn't involve supernatural judgement.
posted by eotvos at 2:18 PM on December 20, 2012


On rereading my comment above - it may be worth clarifying that my whole final paragraph depends on the "if taken at face value" clause.

Specifically, I mean that "I'm having a tough time coming up with a motivation for not lying" which exists entirely in-game, in a world where it is absolutely guaranteed that the lie has no negative consequences and in which nobody will know about the lie.

In the real world of a lab experiment, where the lie will get counted, published, cited in meta-studies, and used to support policy decisions, there may be very real reasons not to lie. (Or, for that matter, real reasons to lie.)

In the even larger world, where it's never guaranteed that (actual) lies have no negative consequences, things change dramatically.
posted by eotvos at 2:38 PM on December 20, 2012


One possibly confounding variable is the fact that economists spend a fair bit of time thinking about and learning about little experiments of exactly this type. So it's possible they are viewing the exercise as exactly an experiment about rational value whereas the experimenters were looking at it as an experiment about ethics....

This study is pretty silly. All it proves is that Economics students (and likely, any other student who has ever taken a class in game theory) are more likely to see the scenario for what it is: a game. The rules of the game state that, if you answer green, you get more money. That's not a lie....

I often wonder, when reading social psych experiments like these, to what extent they're actually measuring subject's desire to influence the outcome of the study itself rather than some broader truth....


Yeah, this is a known thing. These are called demand characteristics. Participants form their own hypothesis about what your research goals are, and about how you're going to interpret their behavior. And then they either try to "help" by doing what they're "supposed to," or try to like Stick It To The Man by doing the "wrong" thing instead.

You can control for some of this stuff, by asking after the experiment "What did you think we were studying?" or "What do you think we expected to find?" (Interestingly even people who take a basically Fuck You approach to the study will often seem to tell the truth here, maybe because they feel like they've seen through some sort of façade and they're proud of how clever they are.) So in this case, you could ask that sort of question, and then look to see which was a better predictor of behavior — "being an econ student" or "interpreting the study in a certain way."

I wish more psych studies would do that. But on the other hand, it's a royal pain in the ass to do well — you have to find a way to sort a whole bunch of short-answer responses into meaningful categories, for starters, and that is surprisingly difficult to do in a fair, unbiased, responsible way — so it's understandable that it isn't more common. Where you do see it a lot is in studies that involve serious outright deception (which are, themselves, relatively rare these days).
posted by and so but then, we at 2:41 PM on December 20, 2012 [2 favorites]


The causal argument the authors are using is somewhat complicated; I'll try and clarify, both for myself and anyone that might be curious.

It's clear from their data that econ majors lie more. What isn't so clear is that being an econ major has caused people to lie more, because it could just be that liars like econ. The "instrumental variable" the authors use to test whether being an econ major makes you a liar is political orientation. Instrumental variables are a common econometric technique but it can also be quite difficult to find a good instrument.

The big assumption behind the causal claim is that political orientation will not affect your honesty, but it will affect what major you choose. The authors argue that all sides of the political spectrum value honesty, but that conservatives are more likely to choose to become econ majors. One way to understand this technique is that the authors found out which students became econ majors because they were conservative, and then checked to see if that subset of conservative econ majors lied more than comparably conservative students who were not econ majors.

The causality argument is a bit shaky but the correlation is interesting regardless.
posted by ropeladder at 3:44 PM on December 20, 2012


The causality argument is *very* shaky. All you have to believe is that conservatives might lie more than liberals, and you have the exact same endogeneity problem (ie, conservatives may both lie more and become econ majors more, and thus it is not necessarily the case that becoming an econ major causes you to lie more). Note that there is *no* fix for this apart from actual time-series data: we know that conservatism is correlated with econ major is correlated with lying, so the validity of the instrument (conservatism) only works if we are sure a priori that the instrument cannot directly cause or be caused by the outcome (lying).

This seems like an assumption only someone very unfamiliar with politics or psychology might make.* And in that regard this study, despite allegedly showing econ majors in a poor light, reads like many other social science papers by economists I've read. Even their definition of "lying" is silly, since there is no ethical reason not to report green every time. This is more a measure either of a habitual tendency towards the truth, or (as others have suggested) an unmeasured variation in love of a euro.

That said, having taught game theory, at least for the duration of the course it certainly does make people much more selfish maximizers, at least when you ask them to play games. By the third round of prisoner's dilemma, almost everyone was defecting. (Although more optimistically, when you had them play repeated games in pairs, by the end most were cooperating.) Coupling those games with a desire to please and professorial indoctrination about the wonders of individualism, and it would not be surprising that those students get more selfish over the course of four years.

* To quote from the paper: "Among the variables we gathered, political position seems a plausible choice for an instrument. Consider first the issue of exogeneity. There seems to be neither compelling a priori reasons why being an honest person would lead to any political opinion, nor the converse, reasons why identification with one political position over another would lead one to be more honest. While people of different political ideology disagree on many subjects, the importance of honesty does not seem to be one of them. Thus politics do not seem to have any link with honesty, apart from correlation with other factors that might influence such choices. This is the ideal situation for instrumental variables." Yikes.
posted by chortly at 5:56 PM on December 20, 2012


WHAT THE FUCK IS A RED WINE AND COCAINE ENEMA?

$20, same as in town.
posted by UbuRoivas at 3:49 AM on December 21, 2012 [2 favorites]


This study is pretty silly. All it proves is that Economics students (and likely, any other student who has ever taken a class in game theory) are more likely to see the scenario for what it is: a game. The rules of the game state that, if you answer green, you get more money. That's not a lie.

Thank you for stating what should be obvious to anyone who has actually taken the time to read the article. If they were studying the relationship between majors and ethics then it's a poorly designed experiment. More likely, this is another example of the harm and public misleading that occurs when media reports scientifically-designed study. It could easily be titled "Economic Students are better at Playing Games" or "Humanities Students are more Likely to Think Irrationally"
posted by savvysearch at 8:00 AM on December 23, 2012


« Older The New York Times is previewing their latest tech...  |  Based on the hit videogame, Fr... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments