Executive Summary (via Rafael Di Tella and Ricardo Pérez-Truglia @ HBS):
This paper explores the idea that people who can take advantage of a particular situation will tend to believe that others would choose to take advantage of the same situation if given the chance-thus helping to justify the decision to act selfishly. In their research, Harvard Business School professor Rafael Di Tella and Harvard PhD student Ricardo Pérez-Truglia test their hypothesis on a group of well-heeled Argentinean college students, using a modified version of the “dictator game” in which both the “dictators” and the “recipients” are given the chance to make a selfish choice. Key concepts include:
- The researchers conducted a modified dictator game in which the “dictator” player could take any percentage of tokens from the “recipient” player (à la taxation), but the recipient player could reduce the overall size of the pie in exchange for a personal side payment (à la hiding economic activities from the authorities).
- In general, the dictators who chose to take a large number of tokens from the recipients reported believing that the recipients would choose to take the side payment-that is, to make a selfish choice.
- The results of the experiment support the idea that people often avoid altruistic actions by letting themselves believe that others are selfish, too.