Guide to Frank, Gilovich, Regan, Does Studying Economics Inhibit Cooperation?



The usual assumption economists -- and many others -- make is that people are fundamentally selfish, and economics simply reflects this human tendency. The authors argue, that to some extent economics is a cause of selfishness, or at least it amplifies selfish tendencies in people. The authors present experimental and survey data.

Make sure you understand each experiment. E.g. What kind of a choice were subjects presented by Marwell and Ames. How did economics students differ from others? What were some of the potential flaws of this experiment?

Make sure you understand Figure 1.

Figure 2. is the results of a regression equation. The Coefficients are numbers that tell you how much a particular factor changes (increases or decreases) the probability of defection if all the other factors stay the same. (Ignore the coefficient belonging to Constant). E.g. ECON (or being an economics major) will increase your probability of defection by .168835 or about 17%, which means that if you switch major but participate the same version of the experiment (and, of course your sex and class does not change) you will more likely to defect by this much. CLASS on the other hand will decrease the probability of defection by -.065363 or about 6.5%, which means that moving up a class makes you this much more cooperative (again, if all the other factors stay the same).

The second and the third column are there to evaluate the statistical significance of the outcome, to answer the question: can these effects be due to an unlucky random pick of subjects. If the t-ratio is less than 2 the convention is that we agree that the coefficient in the population could be zero, and we might see a positive or negative effect just by chance. Thus INTERMEDIATE my have no effect in the population.


Try some of these experiments on yourself. How would you behave as an 'allocator'? What would you do with the $100 envelope?