China’s One-Child Policy, now in its fourth decade, has achieved its goal of controlling population growth in the world’s most populous country, but it has also created major age and gender imbalances in the process.
In addition to sweeping social and economic instability, the policy has
proven problematic on an individual level. An entire generation of Chinese has essentially grown up spoiled and without siblings. The resulting shift in social behavior is often referred to as the “little emperor effect,” and researchers have now quantified its impact in a study published this week in Science.
Selfishness is good for us—thinking “me (and my relatives) first” lets humans ensure their survival and that of their genes. But generosity can be good, too; it binds humans into safe communities. So if both behaviors are beneficial, which one dominates? A new Nature paper suggests that it all comes down to timing: when we have to make a fast decision, we act more generously than when we have time to think about our choices.
Many official forms require that you sign your name at the bottom to signify that you have, to the best of your knowledge and ability, supplied honest information. But if you really want people to be honest, a recent study in PNAS suggests, it’s better to have them sign their names at the top of the form instead, before they fill in anything else.
Having people sign the top of a form made them less likely to cheat when reporting how much money they’d earned in a simple experiment, the researchers found, or when claiming travel expenses for their trip to the lab; people who signed in the usual spot at the bottom of the form were, statistically, just as likely to cheat as those who didn’t have to sign the form anywhere.
Most of us would consider ourselves honest people—but that doesn’t stop us from fudging the rules in favor of our team, giving an inflated report of our own performance, or buying knock-off accessories rather than the legit version. At Wired, Joanna Pearlstein talks to behavioral economist Dan Ariely about what leads us to lie, cheat, and steal—and rationalize our behavior to ourselves as not being so bad.
Wired: You write that people find it easier to rationalize stealing when they’re taking things rather than actual cash. You did an experiment where you left Coca-Colas in a dorm refrigerator along with a pile of dollar bills. People took the Cokes but left the cash. What’s going on there?
Behavioral economists have documented the all too many ways that humans are predictably irrational. Emotions and biases often just get the better of us. In a new study in Psychological Science, however, psychologists found that people forced to think in a foreign language made more rational decisions. C’est vrai!
Psychologists took classic scenarios from behavioral economics and posed them to students in their native and foreign languages. Here’s an example of one:
There’s a disease epidemic sweeping through the country, and without medicine, 600,000 people will die. You have to choose one of two medicines to make:
If you choose medicine A, 200,000 people will be saved. If you choose medicine B, there is a 1/3 chance of saving 600,000 people and a 2/3 of saving no one. Which medicine do you choose?
Most people would go with A, the less risky bet, because we’re risk-averse when the choice is framed as a gain—as in “saving people.” But what if we framed the question a little differently in this second scenario?
If you choose medicine A, 400,000 people will die. If you choose medicine B, there is a 1/3 chance of saving 600,000 people and a 2/3 of saving no one. Which medicine do you choose?
The wave that washed over the eastern coast of Japan was more than 130 feet high.
You would expect that a disaster of the magnitude of the Tohoku tsunami and earthquake, which killed 15,000 people and caused about $210 billion in property damage, would have people feeling more apt to evacuate when another killer wave approaches. But, strikingly, scientists who interviewed Japanese people a year before the event and afterwards found that the size of the waves they would think dangerous enough to flee had grown. As Adam Mann writes at Wired, people had stopped recognizing the height at which a wave becomes dangerous:
We want others to think well of us—so if we know someone’s watching, most of us tend to behave a little better. People with autism spectrum disorders, however, don’t, a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found. Since most people, psychologists think, clean up their acts out of concern for their social reputation, the new study bolsters the idea that people with autism and related conditions don’t take into account, or perhaps fully understand, what others think of them.