Psychology

Social Preferences

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Science  06 Jun 2008:
Vol. 320, Issue 5881, pp. 1262
DOI: 10.1126/science.320.5881.1262a

The quotidian activity of playing cards (or kibitzing) can just as well be regarded as a self-sustaining institution within which individuals behave according to a shared set of incentives. As such, their behaviors become susceptible to game theoretic analysis, where strategies are formulated on the basis of estimated payouts, even those as intangible as a reputation for selfishness.

Yamagishi et al. have adopted this framework in analyzing the motivations for choices made by Japanese and Americans in a simple task. When offered a single colored pen from a group of five pens as a token payment for filling out a survey, Hokkaido students were less likely than Wolverines (Michigan students) to take a particular pen if it were the only one of that color available—that is, they would avoid reducing the scope of choice for subsequent people and thus, by incurring the cost of passing up the uniquely colored pen, not run the risk of making a negative impression on others. In contrast, a cultural psychological assessment would explain this outcome as revealing the preference (higher valuation) that East Asians place on conformity as opposed to the affinity of Westerners for individualism. When the choice task was expanded to include situations where the student was told explicitly that he was the first or the last of the five students to receive pens, the East-West difference disappeared; both Japanese and Americans were less likely to take the uniquely colored if they were the first and more likely (equally so) if they were the last to choose.— GJC

Psychol. Sci. 19, 578 (2008).

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