ETHICS & Harvard Researchers Discover Most People Selfless – Until They Think About It

“Selfish behavior comes from thinking too much, not too little. Rand recently verified this finding in a meta-analysis of 51 similar studies from different research groups.2 “Most people think we are intuitively selfish,” Rand says—based on a survey he conducted—but “our lab experiments show that making people rely more on intuition increases cooperation.”

Selfishness Is Learned: We tend to be cooperative—unless we think too much.

by MATTHEW HUTSON, Nautilus, 6/9/16.

…In 2012 he and two similarly broad-minded Harvard professors, Martin Nowak and Joshua Greene, tackled a question that exercised the likes of Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Which is our default mode, selfishness or selflessness? Do we all have craven instincts we must restrain by force of will? Or are we basically good, even if we slip up sometimes?

They collected data from 10 experiments, most of them using a standard economics scenario called a public-goods game.1 Groups of four people, either American college students or American adults participating online, were given some money. They were allowed to place some of it into a pool, which was then multiplied and distributed evenly. A participant could maximize his or her income by contributing nothing and just sharing in the gains, but people usually gave something. Despite the temptation to be selfish, most people showed selflessness…

This finding was old news, but Rand and his colleagues wanted to know how much deliberation went into such acts of generosity. So in two of the experiments, subjects were prodded to think intuitively or deliberately; in two others, half of the subjects were forced to make their decision under time pressure and half were not; and in the rest, subjects could go at their own pace and some naturally made their decisions faster than others. If your morning commute is any evidence, people in a hurry would be extra selfish. But the opposite was true: Those who responded quickly gave more. Conversely, when people took their time to deliberate or were encouraged to contemplate their choice, they gave less.

The researchers worked under the assumption that snap judgments reveal our intuitive impulses. Our intuition, apparently, is to cooperate with others. Selfish behavior comes from thinking too much, not too little. Rand recently verified this finding in a meta-analysis of 51 similar studies from different research groups.2 “Most people think we are intuitively selfish,” Rand says—based on a survey he conducted—but “our lab experiments show that making people rely more on intuition increases cooperation.”

Read more at … http://m.nautil.us/issue/37/currents/selfishness-is-learned