Experiment: Natural Born … Robin Hood?

Well, this is what some economic game theorist suggests:

Robin Hood took from the rich and gave to the poor. A recent study by a team of researchers headed up by University of California-San Diego political scientist James Fowler suggests that we may all have Robin Hood tendencies. Experimental economists and psychologists from around the world have been watching how people play various economic games as a way to probe the bases of human cooperation. One of the more interesting discoveries is that in economic games some people – altruistic punishers – will take fairly big hits to their winnings in order to reduce the ill-gotten gains of cheaters. Games with altruistic punishers elicit more cooperative behavior among players. In addition, other researchers have found that players will happily spend some of their own winnings in gambling games in order to reduce the “undeserved” winnings of other players.

In re-analyzing some earlier studies, Fowler and his colleagues suggested “that egalitarian motives are more important than motives for punishing non-cooperative behaviour.” In other words, people are really more interested in enforcing income equality than they are in punishing cheaters. To tease out motives, Fowler and his colleagues devised a game in which there was no possibility of reciprocity or cooperation. Their hypothesis was that people would spend some of their incomes to equalize the incomes of other players.

Read more on the experiment details, outcome and discussion here.

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