PSYCHOLOGY: Pressure From Above

Science  14 Sep 2007:
Vol. 317, Issue 5844, pp. 1473b
DOI: 10.1126/science.317.5844.1473b

A recent interdisciplinary trend is the use of economic transactions, which yield a quantitative expression of preferences, in experimental studies of human social behavior. In the anonymous one-shot dictator game, a person is allotted the task of taking any part or all of a sum of money, with the remainder given to a second person who is neither seen nor encountered again. Shariff and Norenzayan engaged 75 residents (ages 17 to 82) of Vancouver and offered them the opportunity of playing this game after having completed one of three possible scrambled sentence tests. Across the three groups, the modal choice was to take either the entire amount or only half of it. Within each of the two groups who had been implicitly primed with concepts of religion or of civic justice, 11 out of 25 people ceded half of the money, as compared to 10 of 25 absconding with everything in the neutral prime condition. Furthermore, both types of pro-social priming evoked significantly greater expressions of generosity (than the neutral prime) by theists. Linking institutional systems of morality to other-regarding behavior by individuals lends support to the proposal that the development of social norms enabled the increase of group size in our human ancestors. — GJC

Psychol. Sci. 18, 803 (2007).

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