The Money Game

Our social psychologist friends love to play games to see how we behave. One of the games of choice used to study social cooperation is known as the Dictator Game. The game shows how benevolent your dictatorship is going to be. The player is offered an asset and asked if they would care to share it and how much of it they would care to share. Of course, the social psychologist is looking at average group responses and not just you or me, so they can draw broad expansive conclusions that help with our stereotyping.

Nettle et al from England’s old Geordie city of Newcastle upon Tyne have turned their social psych’s magnifier on their hometown (1). They chose two areas of the city, one comfortably off and the other somewhat deprived and offered to send them a £10 note through the mail if they filled in a survey.

This is where they turned to game play and asked if they would like to give some or all of it away. It could be to an anonymous person, a friend or a charity, but the recipient had to live at another address. Note that each “Dictator” had only one type of “Recipient” to consider. They had no choice. As sweeteners, those who had a charity choice were offered a matching donation from the organizers. For those that could be generous to friends, if they donated the whole amount, their friend would receive £20.

The results? Well, to me the big surprise was that there were 40 people who had the “help your friend” offer out of the 118 who played the game and they didn’t do a deal with their friend to share £20 in a 50/50 split.

In fact, in the comfortable neighborhood, the average donation to a friend was the lowest of the three donations at about £4 compared to almost £5 to a stranger and nearly£8 to a charity.

In the deprived area, giving cash to a stranger didn’t seem a good idea – maybe a cup of tea, but probably not. About 50p to a friend was average and about £3 to charity was about it.

What conclusions can we draw? If you’re on hard times, you don’t throw your money about, but you can still have your arm twisted for charitable purposes. If you’re sitting comfortably in Geordieland, you’d give more to a stranger than a friend. Maybe your “friends” are your competitors? But, the big question, the elephant in the room, is why didn’t the Geordies get together with their friends and share a £20 dinner?


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