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The WEIRD ones
August 29, 2010 7:19 AM   Subscribe


 
I'll pay you five dollars if you let me write for your multi-million dollar blog.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 7:23 AM on August 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think it's WEIRD to always capitalize your 'key' word, as if this isn't a discussion of an interesting scholarly topic but a discussion of a cool new product. Hey folks, check out WEIRD, don't you want to be a WEIRD person? We're WEIRD scholars with WEIRD projects and, hey, why the WEIRD aren't you taking us seriously? Go WEIRD yourself.
posted by fuq at 7:27 AM on August 29, 2010 [4 favorites]


fuq, the reason they're capitalizing the word is that it's an anagram, standing for Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic. You didn't read the article very carefully, it appears.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:30 AM on August 29, 2010 [17 favorites]


No real news here, except the Muller-Lyer thing. Now that *is* strange.
posted by Artw at 7:34 AM on August 29, 2010


I also found all of the WEIRD weird-ness to be really grating. Especially since the capitalized "weird" was often used when the non-acronym form would be more appropriate.

I would have liked more discussion about the non-Western cultures - are they all truly uniform in the context of this game? Are some cultures more prone to punishing the generous? The article hints that that may be the case (the article uses "others" ambiguously, so I don't know if it refers to non-Western individuals or non-Western cultures), which suggests more of a spectrum of cultural values.

I wonder if punishing the generous has something to do with a stronger sense of social obligations among some non-Western cultures - maybe the participants did not want to become indebted to the other person? Maybe they didn't want to become the object of charity?
posted by fermezporte at 7:37 AM on August 29, 2010 [4 favorites]


He and two other UBC researchers authored a paper shaking up the fields of psychology, cognitive science and behavioural economics by questioning whether we can know anything about humanity in general if we only study a "truly unusual group of people" — the privileged products of Western industrial societies, who just happen to make up the vast majority of behavioural science test subjects.

This was pretty well-known and non-controversial when I was studying undergrad psychology in the mid-90s, so I'm not sure it's going to 'shake up' anything.

I also find it problematic that they're grouping the world into Westerners vs the Rest, as if all 'Westerners' think the same - when (as the article notes, later on) most research has been done on Americans specifically. I'm not convinced that research with US participants necessarily generalises to, say, Swedes or New Zealanders, any more than it does to Chinese or Amazon Indians. (It may, sure, but let's not assume that). One example that sticks in my mind is the 16 factor model of personality - it has been very popular in the US, but research in Australia and New Zealand consistently failed to validate the research - Aussies and Kiwis simply don't fit that model. (Which I suspect indicates a fault in the model, sure, but it's interesting that it worked in the US, but not in some other Western countries).
posted by Infinite Jest at 7:39 AM on August 29, 2010 [6 favorites]


On less psychological differences between cultures, I always thought of the travel documentaries that described a culture as "loving food" or those travel shows' hosts describing the culture they are examining as "loving food" as quite weird. What the hell kind of culture doesn't like food?

Then I realized: probably one where many of its problems - a ballooning obesity crisis leading to a healthcare leviathan in the US and the rest of the west, to a smaller degree - are caused by food. We are the only people who really have a conflicted attitude towards food, because we have too much of it, and so all the thin or fat travel guides look at non-warped views toward food and admire it.

We can go back to the game theoretic discussion now: just a strange observation. What impact would that have on the attitudes towards food of Westerners that travel a lot to these healthily adjusted countries, though?
posted by curuinor at 7:44 AM on August 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


Interestingly the study itself actually was done in the mid-90's. Why is there just an article now?
posted by r_nebblesworthII at 7:45 AM on August 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm rather shocked that no-one in the behavioral sciences figured out that sociology, psychology and neurology are inextricably intertwined and mutable before now. Yes, the culture you live in can determine how you think, and how you think can influence how it gets thought, and vice-versa and the other way 'round, too. I thought linguists learned all this a few decades ago?

There really isn't enough interdisciplinary research these days.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:48 AM on August 29, 2010


Psychologists discover cultural diversity; reframe concept in terms of Western exceptionalism. Film at 11.
posted by magnificent frigatebird at 7:49 AM on August 29, 2010 [15 favorites]


What the hell kind of culture doesn't like food?

Have you been to Canada? There's a grudging tolerance, and a wary respect for cheese curds and gravy, but saying they like food may be taking it too far.
posted by Slap*Happy at 7:51 AM on August 29, 2010 [10 favorites]


Not sure about the 16 factor model, but the Five Factor Model does work rather well. So well it even applies to chimps. But yeah what Infinite Jest said. This is in psych 101. There's also a whole field of psychology dedicated to this: cultural psychology. I'm sure the authors pushing this know that. Not sure why they're being so insistent that's it's a new thing.
posted by Smegoid at 7:53 AM on August 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


In other words, we do not know what we thought we knew about the human mind. We only know about the mind of a particular, unusual slice of humanity.


But we still know what we thought we knew about our OWN minds, right? Or is EVERYTHING DIFFERENT NOW? If so, what will I need to purchase? I'd like to get some before everyone else.

Also- NORMAL: Non-Occidental Real Men And Ladies?
posted by Casimir at 7:54 AM on August 29, 2010 [6 favorites]


What the he'll kinda culture doesn't love food?

WASPs?
posted by The Whelk at 7:57 AM on August 29, 2010 [5 favorites]


Wasps are always getting in my food, any time I eat out! They are evil and shoils be destroyed! Exterminate all wasps!

Wait, what?
posted by Artw at 8:06 AM on August 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


What the he'll kinda culture doesn't love food?
Reading that caused me to experience a small stroke, small stroke.
posted by Casimir at 8:08 AM on August 29, 2010


As Infinite Jest says, this issue of cross-cultural differences has been noted and known in psychological/sociological research for decades; I would suggest that this is the typical poor framing of most mainstream science reporting.
posted by never used baby shoes at 8:27 AM on August 29, 2010


So the paper is really just betting that it will become popularly acknowledged that WEIRD is weird and then they'll get the credit for coining the acronym?
posted by Several Unnamed Sources at 8:31 AM on August 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


What the he'll kinda culture doesn't love food?

He'll: Where grocers go after death.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:37 AM on August 29, 2010 [31 favorites]


"With the Machiguenga, they felt rejecting was absurd, which is really what economists think about rejection," Dr. Henrich says. "It's completely irrational to turn down free money. Why would you do that?"

I'm no more an economist than Dr. Henrich, but I bet lots of economists think that punishing selfishness is perfectly rational.
posted by jhc at 8:38 AM on August 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is more proof that the ipad keyboard is a tool for evil.
posted by The Whelk at 8:41 AM on August 29, 2010


I thought this was really interesting, but maybe I'm WEIRD. Ho-fucking-ho. As an Australian I've found it a bit of a grind sorting through information that comes out of Smart America and this article kind of gives me a context for that. Sure, the piece is going over some old ground, but it's doing it in enough of a different way to be fresh.

I mean, the USA is the spear tip of enlightenment, but you guys do eat orange cheese. That's WEIRD.
posted by Gamien Boffenburg at 8:42 AM on August 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


"It's completely irrational to turn down free money. Why would you do that?"

It seems rational to me. I mean, consider his reward and my reward if I use the maxim 'always accept':
Him | Me
$1  | $99
$20 | $80
$40 | $60
$50 | $50
$60 | $40
$80 | $20
$99 | $1
If I use this maxim, the person offering knows I do, and he acts rationally, he will keep $99 and I will make $1. On the other hand, if I use the maxim 'accept $50 or more only' the rewards would be:
Him | Me
$1  | $99
$20 | $80
$40 | $60
$50 | $50
$0  | $0
$0  | $0
$0  | $0
If I use this maxim, the person offering knows I do, and he acts rationally, he will keep $50 and I will make $50.

In other words, I know of two maxims; if I apply the first maxim against an informed rational actor I will get $1, if I apply the second maxim against an informed rational actor I will get $50. It seems rational, therefore, that I apply the second maxim.
posted by Mike1024 at 8:44 AM on August 29, 2010 [4 favorites]


I think the point of the article is the extent to which westerners differ from the remainder of the world. For decades, it's been accepted as a given that the conclusion of "humans do X" based on a representative sample of white, male undergrads in 1965 are inaccurate, and that there's probably a lot of variation across cultures. But, according to the article, we're finding more and more often that for such X's that were trumpeted as human norms, westerners are the ONLY people that do X. It seems the real state is "humans do not do X, except for westerners."
posted by Jon_Evil at 8:52 AM on August 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


I mean, the USA is the spear tip of enlightenment...

And God knows nothing wises you up faster than the spear tip of enlightenment.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 8:54 AM on August 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


Mike1024: If the person offers you $1 regardless of his confidence in whether you will accept it, what benefit is there for you to reject the $1? Only the pride that you have stuck to your maxim, which doesn't seem like a rational motive. So the maxim breaks down if the other partner knows you will behave rationally when offered $1.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 8:54 AM on August 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


Mike1024, that's a fine minimax analysis but the point I take from the article is that a proper minimax analysis of that situation is neither normal nor instinctive. Then again, the success of the casino industry would suggest that minimax is far from the only thing we don't instinctively apply correctly.
posted by localroger at 8:58 AM on August 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Testing Westerners with money is like testing Eskimos with snow. Of course Westerners are going to react differently; we spend most of our lives fretting about money, fair deals, and such.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:01 AM on August 29, 2010 [4 favorites]


When earthquakes devestate, when floods destroy, when famines afflict, when volcanoes engulf whole towns--it is those odd western nations who then send help, doctors, money, supplies to those "other" places.
posted by Postroad at 9:01 AM on August 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


It is a nice article for people who haven't yet been introduced to cross-cultural studies, whether through anthropology, sociology, psychology, or foreign languages — cross-cultural studies were an inherent (required) part of my French degree, for instance. And that was 15 years ago.

But as others have said, this is far from new. It could also be seen another manifestation of observer effect. There are two related manifestations in Wikipedia:
- Observer effect in physics: "In physics, the term observer effect refers to changes that the act of observation will make on the phenomenon being observed."
- Observer-expectancy effect, in psychology: "The observer-expectancy effect (also called the experimenter-expectancy effect, observer effect, or experimenter effect) is a form of reactivity, in which a researcher's cognitive bias causes them to unconsciously influence the participants of an experiment. It is a significant threat to a study's internal validity, and is therefore typically controlled using a double-blind experimental design."

There is interdisciplinary work going on, for which these questions are core elements that you simply can't ignore if you want to be taken seriously. I think that sort of work gets overlooked by the media since its complexity doesn't lend itself to easy simplification for articles. For instance, I'm about to start a Masters in comparative literature (well, fingers crossed since I won't know for sure until mid-September) at the University of Nice, which has, among other research groups, the Centre Interdisciplinaire : Récits, Cultures, Psychanalyse, Langues et Société. (Probably the only word non-French speakers won't recognize is "récits", which in this particular context can be roughly translated as "literary texts", not just prose since récits encompass everything from novels to poetry to mythology to fairy tales etc.) Comparative literature is pretty cool in that regard.
posted by fraula at 9:07 AM on August 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


"that it's an anagram, standing for Western..."

I think you mean "acronym". An anagram is a re-ordering.
posted by JimDe at 9:10 AM on August 29, 2010


You mean those countries from whom the West receives cheaply assembled products and destructively extracted natural resources?
posted by mistersquid at 9:11 AM on August 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think you mean "acronym". An anagram is a re-ordering.

Whoops, right you are. Thanks.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 9:12 AM on August 29, 2010


It turns out the Machiguenga — whose number system goes: one, two, three, many — are not alone in their thinking.
Am I the only one who calls bullshit on this? I've heard this before about Africans, people from the South Pacific.... Can anyone point me toward actual research showing that these people don't count above three? I tried googling "machiguenga numbers" and didn't get anything useful.
posted by thehandsomecamel at 9:17 AM on August 29, 2010


if you modify the situation slightly to become a repeated game then rejection of low offers is an optimal strategy. westerners probably have a good heuristic rule that says punish bad offers which works well because most games are repeated instead of one-shot.
posted by drscroogemcduck at 9:30 AM on August 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Radiolab discusses the subject of one, two, three, many here.
posted by localhuman at 9:32 AM on August 29, 2010


One, two, many on Language Log.
posted by nev at 9:36 AM on August 29, 2010


First of all, what the hell is a "westerner"? Obviously we talk about "the west" but isn't it a pretty nebulous concept at this point? Would someone in Japan or Brazil play the game differently?

And secondly, if these people can only count to three, how can they play this game?

Anyway, this is kind of an annoying article. First of all "WEIRD" is apparently an acronym for Western, educated, industrialized, rich and democratic (which is a pretty large box).

It seems like they picked a handful of examples where prototypical 'westerners' would behave differently then people from another group: so westerners group things differently then Chinese, but how do Chinese play the splitting game?

Maybe the research is good but the article is annoying.
---
I'm rather shocked that no-one in the behavioral sciences figured out that sociology, psychology and neurology are inextricably intertwined and mutable before now.
What? What makes you think that? Just because of one article about one particular aspect was written you've assumed that no ones ever thought about it or researched it before? Sapir-Whorf was thought up in the 1960s (although proven incorrect, obviously people have been thinking about how different groups of people think differently for a long time)
posted by delmoi at 9:46 AM on August 29, 2010


In other words, I know of two maxims; if I apply the first maxim against an informed rational actor I will get $1, if I apply the second maxim against an informed rational actor I will get $50. It seems rational, therefore, that I apply the second maxim.

I think the game was asking about the amount you will offer, not the amount you will accept.

Since the decision to accept is made after the offer is known, i.e. there can be no haggling, I think the best strategy would be to pretend that you will only accept a very high amount, then accept what is offered anyway: otherwise you walk away with nothing. Wikipedia seems to agree with this.
posted by Dr Dracator at 9:46 AM on August 29, 2010


Thanks for the link, nev. I looked up Piraha, and as usual Wikipedia is both helpful and too brief on the subject. But it does seem that most of what we have about this language is funneled through a single researcher, which always makes me suspicious. I mean, hey -- maybe it's true. Apparently there are only 280-300 speakers of Piraha. So I suppose three hundred people could get together and agree not to notice the difference between four and five. Must make it really easy to steal from them.

(localhuman, thanks to you, too -- I'll listen to it as soon as I can.)
posted by thehandsomecamel at 9:52 AM on August 29, 2010


If I use this maxim, the person offering knows I do, and he acts rationally, he will keep $50 and I will make $50.

In other words, I know of two maxims; if I apply the first maxim against an informed rational actor I will get $1, if I apply the second maxim against an informed rational actor I will get $50. It seems rational, therefore, that I apply the second maxim.
What if it was $100,000, and could only be split up in $10k blocks? I think most people would take the $10k. I wonder if one of the problems with studying this in poorer cultures is that they offered too much money. For someone who lives on $1/day an offer of $10 might be too good to turn down.

I suspect that if the rewards were large enough, people would be much more likely to take a small offer. In other words, people are willing to be treated unfairly for enough money.
posted by delmoi at 9:53 AM on August 29, 2010 [5 favorites]


What if it was $100,000, and could only be split up in $10k blocks? I think most people would take the $10k. I wonder if one of the problems with studying this in poorer cultures is that they offered too much money. For someone who lives on $1/day an offer of $10 might be too good to turn down.

The wikipedia article indicates that there are studies which suggest the opposite of this is true:

It has been hypothesised (e.g. by James Surowiecki) that very unequal allocations are rejected only because the absolute amount of the offer is low. The concept here is that if the amount to be split were ten million dollars a 90:10 split would probably be accepted rather than spurning a million dollar offer. Essentially, this explanation says that the absolute amount of the endowment is not significant enough to produce strategically optimal behaviour. However, many experiments have been performed where the amount offered was substantial: studies by Cameron and Hoffman et al. have found that the higher the stakes are the closer offers approach an even split, even in a 100 USD game played in Indonesia, where average 1995 per-capita income was 670 USD. Rejections are reportedly independent of the stakes at this level, with 30 USD offers being turned down in Indonesia, as in the United States, even though this equates to two week's wages in Indonesia.

Which is really pretty strange because intuitively you'd think the 9 million:1 million thing would have to hold up.
posted by juv3nal at 10:01 AM on August 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


In fact, I'd like to point out there is nothing specific about the number 50 in this analysis: How about a third maxim, where I only accept $99? If the other person knows this, then he must rationally offer me $99, right?

In other words, people are willing to be treated unfairly for enough money.

Why is it perceived as unfair to give less than half? Is it because the first person is seen as not having done anything to deserve the money?

What if the game was put in different terms: Let's say Frank the Farmer is making $100 a year working his farm. He must offer a bribe of x dollars to Eugene the Evil Overlord. If Eugene finds the bribe too low, he goes out and burns the farm and nobody gets anything.

How big a bribe must the Frank offer?
posted by Dr Dracator at 10:01 AM on August 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


...and now
more on the physical regimen of the Dung beetle
posted by clavdivs at 10:02 AM on August 29, 2010


Also, how much money should I offer the mods for a three minute edit window?
posted by Dr Dracator at 10:03 AM on August 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


When earthquakes devestate, when floods destroy, when famines afflict, when volcanoes engulf whole towns--it is those odd western nations who then send help, doctors, money, supplies to those "other" places.
Clearly in some cases we are mortally insulting those people whom we "help" in such ways. We'd better study their cultures more thoroughly before we spend all that money and effort in counterproductive ways.
posted by zoogleplex at 10:19 AM on August 29, 2010


When earthquakes devestate, when floods destroy, when famines afflict, when volcanoes engulf whole towns--it is those odd western nations who then send help, doctors, money, supplies to those "other" places.

Don't forget about the bombs. We send that shit special delivery.
posted by Back to you, Jim. at 10:33 AM on August 29, 2010 [7 favorites]


Why is it perceived as unfair to give less than half?

For the experiment to make sense, there must be a rule, known to both of you, that you can offer the split to one person and one person only; otherwise you'd be able to bid it out to multiple people and the game changes completely. If the person you're offering $10 to knew that you could find someone else, he's almost certain to take it.

Conversely, if he knows that you cannot offer it to someone else then he recognizes that he is a peer in this experiment, and is much more likely to regard himself -- with some justification -- as entitled to half. His side of the experiment makes perfect sense. He knows that he can ask for more and you'll get nothing if you say no.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:35 AM on August 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


It seems to me that the framing of the question might also affect the outcome -- there would be, I imagine, a definite cultural bias in accepting largess vs accepting payment for work done. Imagine two scenarios:

1) A magical money pony appears and offers your friend $100 as long as you get some portion of it. The friend gets to make one offer. If you accept, you both get the money. If you refuse, neither of you gets anything. This seems to be the basic form of the problem; and it leaves the acceptor in the position of accepting an unearned reward from a friend.

2) You do some work for a short-tempered guy who gives your friend work from time to time. The work is not particularly arduous, but it is involved enough that it is hard to say which of you did more work than the other. The boss will hand your friend $100 (where $50 would be a reasonable day's wages) and expects him to pay you your share right there. If you guys start arguing about it, the boss will grab the $100 back and stalk off and no one gets paid. You are entitled to some money, although how much is reasonably in doubt (and you don't necessarily want to put your friendship on the line, either).

It seems to me that for a "culture-blind" version of this test, you would have to find a narrative where the game works in a fairly neutral way, so that both sides can expect some money, but the total amount is open to debate, but negotiation is not allowed.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:41 AM on August 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


When earthquakes devestate, when floods destroy, when famines afflict, when volcanoes engulf whole towns--it is those odd western nations who then send help, doctors, money, supplies to those "other" places.
posted by Postroad at 9:01 AM on August 29 [1 favorite]



What an interesting reaction! Notably, the comments on the linked OP article are mostly along these same lines - that Western civilization is the greatest, bestest thing since sliced bread; having brought us democracy, capitalism, wealth, freedom, etc. All true, granted, but so what? The researchers here, and the article itself, aren't attacking Western culture, or saying it's bad, they're just pointing out that lots of folk psychology and Western intuitions about what is "normal" for humans is in fact abnormal. This is just an empirical fact: there are more people who are non-Western than Western (in the broadest sense).

So, why so defensive? Nobody is criticizing Westerners here, just pointing out that we're abnormal (which is undeniably true, and probably also a good thing).
posted by r_nebblesworthII at 10:41 AM on August 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


Dr Dracator, I think you are still considering it a negotiation. If the two parties can negotiate (exchange information about what amounts they will accept) then the optimal strategy probably trends towards 50/50 as the participants essentially team up against the bank to make sure they get the money. The interesting part happens when you remove the negotiation.
posted by Nothing at 10:41 AM on August 29, 2010


He knows that he can ask for more and you'll get nothing if you say no.

He also knows that he can ask for more than half, and you still get nothing if you say no. Why is he settling for half?

What my example was trying to illustrate is that a 50:50 split is not a rational decision - it is an emotional decision that appears fair to both players. It is an attempt to reach a consensus where nobody is seen as winning, so they can rationalize not getting more money.

After all, when you refuse a low offer, you are essentially putting a price on your desire to not get less than the other guy. You are not doing it out of rational reasons, since a little free money is better than no free money.

If the two parties can negotiate (exchange information about what amounts they will accept) then the optimal strategy probably trends towards 50/50 as the participants essentially team up against the bank to make sure they get the money.

It is a negotiation only in the sense that player A must pick an amount to offer, thinking about what player B will do. A 50/50 strategy is optimal only if player A thinks player B is more likely to accept it. A rational player B does not have a reason to reject any amount of money, so 50/50 is not optimal unless psychological factors (i.e. the desire to get a "fair" deal) are considered.
posted by Dr Dracator at 10:51 AM on August 29, 2010


The comments section of that article is pretty typical illustration of another sociological phenomenon about the relationship between intelligent commentary and barriers to entry. The ease of adding comments with essentially no investment makes it more of an attraction for people who want to say the most stupid and obvious thing that pops into their head. A thoughtful contribution that adds something to the discussion is scarce because it takes effort to produce, and some amount of investment in education and critical thinking.

Add to that the cumulative off-putting effect of the dumb-as-dirt comments that pile up and you get the ratio you see if you actually have the stomach to read it.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:53 AM on August 29, 2010 [4 favorites]


You are not doing it out of rational reasons, since a little free money is better than no free money.

The rational reason is to maximize the amount of money you get. A little free money is better than no free money, but a larger amount of free money is better than a smaller amount. By going for what the other fellow is willing to part with before he gets angry enough to spite you both, you can maximize your gains.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:59 AM on August 29, 2010



The rational reason is to maximize the amount of money you get.

But the experiment posits a take it or leave it one shot deal, not an ongoing negotiation. Turn down the offer of five dollars, you are out that five dollars and your only satisfaction is that the other guy is out 95. Which kind of makes you equally petty.
posted by IndigoJones at 11:10 AM on August 29, 2010


What my example was trying to illustrate is that a 50:50 split is not a rational decision - it is an emotional decision that appears fair to both players. It is an attempt to reach a consensus where nobody is seen as winning, so they can rationalize not getting more money.

Whether a 50:50 split is a rational decision or not for the person making the offer depends on their expectation of whether the person to whom the offer is made is going to decide rationally themselves. If you're absolutely certain they're going to say no to anything less than a split in their favor and reject anything less than that just to be a jerk to you then what is a rational offer for you to make differs greatly from the case where you know they're going decide rationally.
posted by juv3nal at 11:15 AM on August 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Speaking as an unemployed "westerner", I'd just like to say that if someone offers me any money at all I'll take it, irrespective of their current or subsequent financial condition; and irrespective of any psychological gamestering or desire to feel superior, hard-assed or clever; and irrespective of any drive they may have to work out a smug, optimising calculus of greed.
posted by Decani at 12:06 PM on August 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


studies by Cameron and Hoffman et al. have found that the higher the stakes are the closer offers approach an even split, even in a 100 USD game played in Indonesia, where average 1995 per-capita income was 670 USD. Rejections are reportedly independent of the stakes at this level, with 30 USD offers being turned down in Indonesia, as in the United States, even though this equates to two week's wages in Indonesia.
Interesting, because it disproves the 'non-westerners don't do this' view. But anyway that's doing the full test, not the half test. A half test would have a confidant actually choose the split, and always go lopsided, and see if people reject it. I think most people would still choose an even split. And the more money at stake the closer to even it would be (since you want the least risk possible)
In fact, I'd like to point out there is nothing specific about the number 50 in this analysis: How about a third maxim, where I only accept $99? If the other person knows this, then he must rationally offer me $99, right?
But that would assume you had some way to communicate with them before hand. The 50% figure is a best guess based on simple fairness.
His side of the experiment makes perfect sense. He knows that he can ask for more and you'll get nothing if you say no.
The way the game works, there's no negotiation. One person makes an offer and the other person gets to accept or reject. So by making an offer too low, you're actually taking a risk. Whereas making an even offer entails no risk.

The actual rational amount would be slightly more then 50%. If you give yourself 51%, and it only gets rejected 1% of the time you end up with 50.5% as much money. On the other hand, if you give yourself 60%, and that gets rejected 21%, you only end up with 47% of the money. Even though it's only going to happen once, you still want to maximize the expected income. But you have to guess about the rejection rate, which might be difficult.

So what about the rejecter? If this is a one-shot then it's rational to take whatever is offered within that context. But heuristically, it's not a good idea to let yourself get screwed because a world where people treat each other fairly is better for an individual then one where they don't. It's a similar situation with altruism. It might not make sense for an individual to help another in any particular situation, but it does make sense for all individuals if everyone else might be willing to help them should trouble arise.
He also knows that he can ask for more than half, and you still get nothing if you say no. Why is he settling for half?
Again, no one gets to ask for anything. An offer is made, and it's either accepted or rejected.
posted by delmoi at 12:45 PM on August 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


The Ultimatum Game is almost the same scenario as Mutually Assured Destruction. After the other guy launches his first strike, the rational thing to do is to stand down your own missiles - there's no point in killing a bunch of innocent enemy civilians or even just increasing the fallout on your own survivors when you can no longer affect the warheads that are coming to kill you.

Knowing that, the rational thing to do for the other guy is to launch a first strike whenever conditions are such that he knows an un-retaliated first strike will benefit him. Or whenever he knows that conditions will become such that you know an un-retaliated first strike will benefit you. Or such that you just *think* an un-retaliated first strike will benefit you. Or such that you think he'll think... Yeah, it gets pretty bad pretty quickly.

In irrational reality, pretty much everyone (with the exception of one Arthur C Clarke short story?) thought that both sides would want irrational vengeance after any attack, which then became a rational deterrent.

Fortunately the game theory doesn't boil down the same way with more than two major players... I wonder if we were just lucky that the first two happened to be irrational in just the right way.
posted by roystgnr at 12:52 PM on August 29, 2010


I think that what has hardwired some "weird" cultures, not necessarily Western, Educated, Industrialised and Rich, to behave in that manner isn't geography, education, industrialisation or wealth, but that revolutionary Middle Eastern invention called the Rule of Law. The respect of written, set laws and customs over arbitrary rule is what causes this, indeed, rather weird bahaviour and, incidentally, has helped certain parts of the world to become Educated, Industrialised and Rich. It isn't a coincidence that those regions which score highest in most Human Development Indexes, like Scandinavia, are also those where the Rule of Law has long been most respected, and also where such a test would possibly give the "weirdest" results...
posted by Skeptic at 1:32 PM on August 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


The researchers here, and the article itself, aren't attacking Western culture, or saying it's bad-- r_nebblesworthII

They came up with an acronym for Western culture, that happens to spell out a pejorative word, then used it all through their article.

Then they mention the old study "Westerners tend to group objects based on resemblance...Chinese test subjects prefer function," which has been debated much on Metafilter

I tend to find the article overly biased and simplifying to the point of being useless.

Just a thought:
If they came out with an acronym that spelled out MOTHERF...S and used it throughout the article, then would you then see my point?
posted by eye of newt at 1:39 PM on August 29, 2010


More thoughts on the connection between Rule of Law and WEIRDness: As long as disputes are resolved arbitrarily by the whim of a ruler, there isn't a common, shared interest in society for the ruler to be fair. Everybody will simply want the ruler to be in their favour. But, when disputes are resolved by impartial tribunals ("blind" justice) applying written, fixed law, everybody has a common interest in those laws being fair.

Fairness implies retribution and punishment, and those are often not just negative for the punished, but even for the punisher. An arbitrary ruler won't want a useful subject to be too harshly punished, however bad his misbehaviour may have been, because he may then lose his usefulness. However, a society soundly based on the Rule of Law won't make that distinction, because otherwise the punishment would lose its dissuasive effect to others. Thus, in the eternal fight between fairness and (short-term) usefulness, fairness (and retribution) will win. Such a "cut your nose to spite your face" behaviour, although indeed weird, and counter-productive in the short term, is productive on the long term.
posted by Skeptic at 2:05 PM on August 29, 2010


The short of it is this - the thought process that will walk away from the free money in a $25/75 split is taking the long view in that injustice and inequity must be punished. We're going to hurt ourselves to teach the other fellow a sharp lesson in how to behave in an equitable society, and since most of us think this way because of the threats of such punishment, it winds up being a larger social positive. The short-term pain of no money is worth the big-picture gain of living in a society where you're likely to get an even deal.

On the other side of the equation, the offer-maker is going to distribute their windfall as equitably as possible, because they know prevailing social mores will screw them if they try to put a thumb on the scale.

On the scale of the transaction alone, it makes sense to take what's given, and to give only as much as you feel like. On a larger social level, it makes sense to enforce social mores on fairness instead.
posted by Slap*Happy at 2:13 PM on August 29, 2010


"No matter how many times you measure those lines, you can't cause yourself to see them as the same length,"

This must be one of those Magic Eye things, 'cause to me, a born and bred Westerner, they're the same length.

But I never see the sailboat.
posted by madajb at 2:55 PM on August 29, 2010


Psychologists discover cultural diversity; reframe concept in terms of Western exceptionalism. Film at 11.
posted by magnificent frigatebird at 7:49 AM on August 29 [11 favorites +] [!]


Why are you saying this? If they were unaware of cultural diversity they'd have just stuck with the results they got out of Americans instead of going abroad to look at what they'll get elsewhere.

You also don't mention what you mean by Western exceptionalism and what (presumably) is supposed to be wrong with whatever that is.
posted by Anything at 7:02 PM on August 29, 2010


But I never see the sailboat.

...and I will go sailing no more...
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:56 PM on August 29, 2010


Even if I granted that "weird" is pejorative it's not even close to "motherfucker". Do you really think these researchers believe that Western culture is awful, which is why they call it "WEIRD"? (Hint: the researchers themselves are "WEIRD")
posted by r_nebblesworthII at 9:34 PM on August 29, 2010


I think "weird" was just a convenient synonym for "away from the norm." They're not using it in it's pejorative sense at all, except to point out (with a slightly new twist, which I found interesting), that "westerners" are not the norm in the world. That being the whole point of their conclusion. So... not terribly linguistically clever? ok. Pejorative? a bit strong, I think.
posted by bardophile at 10:54 PM on August 29, 2010


I'm just surprised they didn't use WIRED and blame it on the Internets or clapped-out magazines. Or DIRE W, and blame it on Bush. Sheesh, scientists.
posted by chavenet at 11:08 PM on August 29, 2010


I'm confused by the question, and I wonder if other people's confusion might skew the results.

They present the question as..
You are given $100 and asked to share it with someone else. You can offer that person any amount and if he accepts the offer, you each get to keep your share. If he rejects your offer, you both walk away empty-handed.
Nowhere in there am I seeing that the person knows I have $100, nor do they know that I'm required to share it. I can't imagine walking up to someone and saying "here's $10" and them telling me "no, I want more".

Now, if someone knew the terms of the deal, it would make sense that they'd want more of the original amount because now they're doing you a favor. The price of that favor, given what's at stake, makes sense at around 40%. Sure, they'd probably take less (cause it isn't costing them anything) but their initial request might be 40%.

In a realistic scenario, the money-holder would just say "nope" and find the next person who'd be happy with less than $40. That's pretty much how business works : find someone willing to help you out for the least amount you'll have to give up in order to get that help.

The study mentioned earlier about millions of dollars being at stake makes sense - it's why we hear these stories about sports figures making millions of dollars a year and asking for more, and people outside of the situation say "oh, how greedy!".

It comes down to the pie. If you find out that you contributed a significant portion of the ingredients for a pie, and are given one piece while the person who physically placed the pie in the oven gets 4 pieces - you're going to be understandably upset. Sure, you're both still eating, but seeing that your contribution netted you a significantly smaller portion than someone who contributed less than you ... well, that's gonna make you angry.

Take money out of the equation (because, frankly, that's an arbitrary distinction skewed towards making those who deal with money seem greedy) and ask the question of contribution vs. gain and I'll bet the results are the same all over the world.

But that wouldn't be a very interesting study : "hey, we all agree on something"
posted by revmitcz at 2:04 AM on August 30, 2010


So westerners are selfish with a strong, but puritanical sense of moral righteousness.

/news at 11
posted by seanyboy at 3:41 AM on August 30, 2010


So westerners are selfish with a strong, but puritanical sense of moral righteousness.

Damn straight - I mean, the article says studies show educated Americans will make an average offer of $48. What selfish, puritanical monsters they must be!
posted by Mike1024 at 5:46 AM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


If they were unaware of cultural diversity they'd have just stuck with the results they got out of Americans instead of going abroad to look at what they'll get elsewhere.

Part of the point of the article is that for decades, psychology has more or less done exactly that. Obviously, some exceptions exist, but that doesn't mean there isn't an overwhelming bias towards studying Western subjects.

You also don't mention what you mean by Western exceptionalism and what (presumably) is supposed to be wrong with whatever that is.

By "Western exceptionalism" I mean Eurocentrism. These articles are also relevant.

And it's bad because it prevents us from actually understanding other cultures on their own terms, and has been used for centuries to justify all sorts of Western interference in other cultures, from colonization to religious proselytism to war.
posted by magnificent frigatebird at 8:02 AM on August 30, 2010


So wait.. If I offer the full $100, I also get my $100 back? So we both end up with $100?

Let's do that.
posted by Harry at 8:21 AM on August 30, 2010


Oh wait.. never mind.. We get to have our share, not just the offer. 50:50 sounds intuitively right, then.
posted by Harry at 8:22 AM on August 30, 2010


This Edge.org link from Jonathan Haidt, professor of social psychology at the University of Virginia, describes the WEIRD phenomenon much more intelligently than the National Post's article. Which was pretty bad. But the idea of WEIRDness, I think, is pretty compelling, and at the very least deserves a much more thoughtful level of snark than what I'm seeing on this thread. Wow.
posted by jhandey at 9:56 AM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


It turns out the Machiguenga — whose number system goes: one, two, three, many

So, wait... Terry Pratchett's trolls learned math from the Machiguenga? Crazy.
posted by quin at 9:59 AM on August 30, 2010


God dang this article was frustrating to read. They kept skirting around the actual data, offering tantalizing tentative conclusions but never backing them up. I kept reading hoping they would get to the good stuff but never did. Argh pop science articles! SHOW ME THE EFFING DATA ALREADY I CAN DRAW MY OWN DANG CONCLUSIONS
posted by speicus at 10:04 AM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


Take money out of the equation (because, frankly, that's an arbitrary distinction skewed towards making those who deal with money seem greedy) and ask the question of contribution vs. gain and I'll bet the results are the same all over the world.

I think it was a bad way to start the article, but I also think you miss the point of the Ultimatum Game reference.

There is no contribution to be considered. It is free money (or pie). The terms of the "Ultimatum Game" is that 2 people are given 1 pie and Person 1 gets to decide how to split it. If Person 2 does not agree to the split, no one gets any pie.

There is no person 3. You can't shop around until you find someone willing to take X%. And it doesn't matter if it's money or pie. It's a material reward.

I also find it problematic that they're grouping the world into Westerners vs the Rest, as if all 'Westerners' think the same - when (as the article notes, later on) most research has been done on Americans specifically.

I too thought the tone of the article was problematic. There was an implicit sense of Westerners as monolithic (no "most Westerners" or "some Westerners") opposed to non-westerners.

If I were Person 1 in the Ultimatum Game, I would offer 50% with no consideration. If I were Person 2, I would accept any amount. Hey, it's free money.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:45 AM on August 30, 2010


Interestingly the study itself actually was done in the mid-90's. Why is there just an article now?

Which study? "The Weirdest People in the World" by Joe Henrich, Steven J. Heine, and Ara Norenzayan from the University of British Columbia looks like it was published May 7, 2010.

Hey, whattdya know? Here's the whole fucking article. Thanks, Internet!

(if the link doesn't work, the cite is Behavioral and Brain Sciences (2010), 33: 61-83 Cambridge University Press.)
posted by mrgrimm at 11:01 AM on August 30, 2010 [1 favorite]


It comes down to the pie. If you find out that you contributed a significant portion of the ingredients for a pie, and are given one piece while the person who physically placed the pie in the oven gets 4 pieces - you're going to be understandably upset. Sure, you're both still eating, but seeing that your contribution netted you a significantly smaller portion than someone who contributed less than you ... well, that's gonna make you angry.

Make the pie higher.

OK, that joke is probably very stale by now ...
posted by krinklyfig at 4:51 PM on August 30, 2010


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