Cooperation and the public good

Social scientists differ about the relative virtues of top-down verses peer-to-peer actions to secure public goods like clean water and air and safe foods and pharmaceuticals. Recent decision experiments suggest that in modern societies, both dimensions are necessary, and that they’re complementary to each other.

Does the Impulse to Gossip Have a Silver Lining for Markets?

The urge to let others know when you've been taken advantage of, and instinctively knowing that almost all of us have it, may play a big role in helping markets to function well--most recently including ones relying on online reviews such as eBay, airbnb, and trip advisor. I describe a novel laboratory experiment that demonstrates the tendency to tell in its purest form.

Evil Geniuses Need Not Apply

Novel research demonstrates that being a team player can not only be nice, it can also be smart.

Our Children's Children's Children*

On top of old worries about whether humankind will survive the next few centuries come new concerns about whether our descendants will even be human in a sense that we would recognize. The centuries ahead could be very interesting, indeed.

Democracy and the Pro-social Impulse

Governments answerable to the people can exist only due to the fact that we’re emotional, social creatures, not isolated, rational, strictly selfish individuals. A better appreciation of human nature can help us secure a democratic future.

Genes, Choice, and Human Aspiration

To have aspirations as a society makes no sense at all if we’re each slaves to our genetic dispositions and if whatever goals human beings can individually and collectively have are nothing but reflections of the goals of our genes. But an intellectually rigorous, evolutionarily-informed view of human nature and behavior by no means implies this.

Global Environmental Dilemma as a Problem of Fairness

A clever decision experiment suggests that most people care about fairness towards those who’ll follow after us, but shows that depending on what institutions are in place, most people may not be enough.

Genes, Race and IQ again—Oh My!

Are we mature enough to discuss genes, race or ethnicity, and intelligence scientifically? Testing the boundaries of the acceptable merely to sell books makes Troublesome Inheritance an inauspicious start.

Eye of the Needle

"Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God." So, is dislike of inequality built into the human psyche? Maybe so, but with an awful lot of wiggle room.

God, Good and Primates

The human thirst for meaning is unquenchable. I tell the one about the primatologist, the bonobo and the atheist who walk into a blog.

Reputation Building and Fresh Starts

In experiments in which participants play a series of games with choice of partners, then start a new series with clean reputation, we asked: What lessons do people take from experience? We found the answer to sometimes be: cooperating pays. Understanding how trusting and cooperative orientations are nurtured may one day help us to build healthier societies.

Starting Over

Being nice pays off in the experimental decision lab (and at least sometimes, in life) when a good reputation means other nice types want you in their group. But opportunists always "defect" on the last round of play. We study what lessons people draw from such finitely repeated games by seeing what happens when they get to start over.

Not Smart Enough to Be Rich?

Have you picked up some of the chatter on international intelligence? No, I'm not talking about classified intelligence leaks here, but something you might find even more troubling. Why are average IQs lower in poorer countries?

Giving Credit Where Credit Is Due

Could boosting trust help millions in the developing world to escape poverty? How a new experiment seeks answers.

Drugs, Trust, and Government

Why do people trust entities like the FDA any more than they trust drug companies to self-police? The answer may be that it takes only a few good eggs, and we trust that our society has some.

Animal Spirits

The book by the Berkeley Nobel Prize winner and behavioral economics pioneer George Akerlof, and by noted Yale economist Robert Schiller, makes the case that understanding and responding properly to the economy’s ups and downs is impossible without considering human psychology.

Democracy and Virtue

The father of the U.S. Constitution believed that checks and balances alone would not suffice to secure the kind government required by a free society, and that at least some virtue in the citizenry is also needed. Can we find such virtue amongst us?

Economy Today: It’s Half in the Mind, You Know

An alien observer of our economy who could count up only tangibles such as the contents of our supermarkets and big-box stores would be missing at least half of the story, because at least half of what determines how well we meet even our most material of needs exists in the software of human minds

Lies and Damned Lies: Why Is Anyone Ever Trusted?

If talk were too cheap, every message would be babble. Even attempts to deceive would be inexplicable unless some statements can be given credence. Experimental evidence suggests that there's a default bias toward relatively truthful utterances, and that the ability and inclination to punish deception may well have helped this bias--and hence language itself--to evolve.

Lack of Trust A Harbinger of Social Breakdown?

Some recent trends bespeak the untrusting attitudes common in poor societies with badly functioning institutions.

Why Tax Progressivity Is Such a Hot-Button Issue

Tax progressivity characterizes all high income democracies.

Judge Holmes Was Right About Taxes

Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.

Romney for Secretary of National Healing

Offering Romney a high-profile position might be a stroke of Lincoln-esque genius.

“Economic Man” Wouldn’t Vote, But Humans Do

Democracy is possible thanks to our social natures.

When ‘De-institutionalization’ Goes Overboard

Carried to excess, “into the community” becomes morally criminal.

American Politics and The Two Faces of Fairness

With income and wealth inequality running at half century records and with the overwhelming majority of the population standing to gain materially from taxing the rich more heavily than the middle class, why aren’t a large majority of voters clamoring to restore the progressive tax?

Selfishness, Better Angels, & Decisions On-the-Fly

A desire to help is second nature to many, but are our better selves an “add on”?

Psychological Roots of Capitalism

Is appropriating the elements from which to construct our bodies the beginning of the impulse towards possession?

Social Norms Underpin the Wealth of Nations

Cooperation in Copenhagen, antagonism in Athens, on display in labs before fortunes diverged.

Wages of Virtue? Job Choice and the Money Motive

A surprising number of people show a readiness to sacrifice some pay for work they find more fulfilling.