Re: Neuroeconomics

From: Keith Henson (
Date: Sun 02 Mar 2003 - 21:42:24 GMT

  • Next message: Keith Henson: "Re: memetics-digest V1 #1297"

    At 11:51 AM 02/03/03 -0600, you wrote:
    >Looking Inside the Brains of the Stingy
    >Source: New York Times
    >Author: Virginia Postrel
    >Dated: 2003-02-27
    >HERE's a game economists play: Player 1 has $10 and can give
    >any dollar amount to Player 2. Player 2 can either accept or reject
    >it. If Player 2 accepts, they both keep the money. If Player 2
    >rejects it, neither player gets anything.
    >What should the players do? Arguably, Player 2 should accept
    >whatever is offered, since some money is better than none. Player
    >1 should thus offer as little as possible: $1. That strategy is the
    >standard game-theory equilibrium.
    >But that's not necessarily what happens when real people play this
    >"ultimatum game" in laboratory settings with real money on the
    >line. Faced with low-ball offers, many Player 2's reject them. And
    >many Player 1's make more generous offers, often nearly half the
    >"About half the subjects that we observed played according to the
    >way the game theory said people should play, and about half
    >didn't," said Kevin McCabe, an economist and director of the
    >Behavioral and Neuroeconomics Laboratory at George Mason
    >The Player 1's who do not follow the presumably rational strategy
    >often wind up better off. Even without communicating with
    >fellow players, they are able to cooperate for mutual benefit.
    >Why do people react differently to the same situation? And why
    >do so many people give up money to punish anonymous


    The obvious reason is that we evolved this way.

    Matt Riddley has quite a bit to say about this.

    There are psychological traits related to food sharing and rooted in our deep past that cause people to resent their non sharing fellows. Here is about 3/4 of a page from Matt Ridley's 1999 book, The Origins of Virtue--Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation.

    Chapter 6, Public Goods and Private Gifts, page 117.

          "On 8 August 1993, Maura Burke won 3 million pounds in the Irish national lottery. The 450 people who lived in the tiny village of Lettermore were delighted for their fortunate neighbour and threw a spontaneous party. Mrs Burke's husband died within the month and she had no children. Expectations ran high in the village. Yet she did not share anything with the villagers, and they quickly grew resentful. 'We have not seen a penny of it,' one resident said angrily to a journalist. Her good fortune had driven her out of the community because she was unwilling to share.

          "At first sight, Mrs Burke's punishment was very much in the tradition of Hawkes's tolerated theft. The community did not just expect her to be generous with her windfall, it punished her for not being generous. Yet there is another way to look at it, Hill and Kaplin's way. Like a player in the prisoner's dilemma game, Mrs Burke had suddenly defected after cooperating for many years and her partners felt inclined to punish her. Knowing the neighbors would never offer her the same generosity in the future, she had little incentive to share. But a fortunate aboriginal hunter knows it is only a matter of time before he finds himself in the position of recipient rather than donor. The long shadow of the future hangs over his decision.

          "Incidentally, Mrs Burke was lucky. In Eskimo societies, to hoard is taboo. Rich people who are ungenerous are sometimes killed."

    To warp this back to memes, brains with these evolved traits are the one in which memes are selected. They are the ones in which a particular Leno monolog is remembered the next day and told to a co-worker because it resonates with some psychological trait evolved long ago in a tribal environment.

    <Grin> They are the brains that get some stupid song stuck in them too.

    Keith Henson

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