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We Aren’t the World (psmag.com)
174 points by dchmiel 1606 days ago | hide | past | web | 148 comments | favorite

As a thought experiment, if this was done in the US with $10k, and the other subject offered me $3000 I would take it. I would not walk away from $3000 to punish him for being unfair. If he offered me $100 I would probably walk away. So I would be more tolerant of unfairness if I was getting a large enough payout.

This is precisely how contracting shops work in the IT industry in the US. They keep the bulk of the money and pay the contractor just enough that he does not walk away from the deal.

Yeah, the relative value of the money matters a lot. To make it even more extreme, if the total was 100 million dollars and I was offered 1 million, I would take it. But if the total was $100 and I was offered $10, I'd probably refuse.

The bit about offering more than 60% in gift-giving cultures and having the other player still reject them is surprising. What would explain that?

In the article they mentioned later that in gift-giving cultures receiving a gift make one indebted. They are rejecting the offers, not because they are too small, but because they are too big. The people offering as much as 60% are doing so to gain favours.

But wasn't the offers anonymous?

Maybe it is even worse this way: you get indebted to an unknown person!

Probably there is some heuristics at work, which gives the intuition that a too good split is somehow dangerous. (Similar to how people who are afraid of the dark try to avoid both caves and cellars. )

Wait, why would you ever refuse a gift?

I don't get that.

If someone offered me a dollar out of his million, I'd accept it and be very grateful.

Human beings are irrational and sometimes do things that aren't in their economic best interest out of principle or ethics. Think about it: if I murder somebody, then offer you $100 not to tell anyone, would you take the money? I certainly hope not.

And yet, from a strictly economic perspective, that's a fundamentally terrible decision. Not only will you lose $100, but you'd lose tons of time you could be working talking to the police, testifying in court, etc.

It seems that no one has mentioned that the effect of relative wealth might be severe also from a rationality point of view. In a more primitive environment, if your neighbor becomes too powerful, he might enslave or even kill you, so better keep him in his place.

Similarly, if you take the $100 and are silent, and protect the killer, you risk severe punishment if you are caught. Even if I agree that the decision is made based on moral conscience for most people rather than economic calculation (which might be the case for sociopaths), there is a rational basis for this. Fundamentally, to make sure that I don't get murdered myself by the murderer later, I better not comply with him, as he is proven to be ruthless. In addition, because other people are moral beings as well, $100 is a very small compensation for risking jail and being shunned for the rest of your life, a very bad economic decision.

    > Human beings are irrational and sometimes do things that
    > aren't in their economic best interest out of principle
    > or ethics.
Humans might be irrational sometimes, but this isn't one of those times. "Rationality" has no meaning outside of the context of a goal . . . the sentence I quoted makes it seem like you're saying people should only care about their economic (do you mean financial/material?) interests.

You also said

    > Think about it: if I murder somebody, then offer you $100
    > not to tell anyone, would you take the money? I certainly
    > hope not.
so it does seem you aren't actually suggesting that.

Talking about these things from a strictly economic perspective is always tricky, because it assumes that the economic value of things like morals and ethics are zero.

I think the problem is that it's somewhat difficult to set a monetary value on the value of abstract concepts such as morals and ethics more than anything else.

Either way, it sounds like we agree that there's a social contract that may cause individuals to act in a manner that isn't immediately economically advantageous.

Break it down this way. Its about the way people in different cultures reflexively parse incomplete information.

The issue is that you have unspoken assumptions - Its just some guy giving you a buck, no other costs/strings or concerns to deal with. Take buck, move on.

Now lets say you are in a gift giving culture, or even better, a "high-context culture".

Whose giving you the money? A buck? From a millionaire? Are there strings attached? Nothing is free so whats going on?

So on and so forth.

I get your point. Its summed up well in the article:

>>" “It just seemed ridiculous to the Machiguenga that you would reject an offer of free money,” says Henrich. “They just didn’t understand why anyone would sacrifice money to punish someone who had the good luck of getting to play the other role in the game.”"

I'll try and explain the counter point: Lets say you me and the researcher are playing this game. The researcher ponies up $1m and asks you to split it with me. Now, I view $1 million as the total gift. I also think you and me BOTH bring something to the table:

a) You: The decision making - which you value at $xa.

b) Me: The veto powers - which I value at some $ xb. The closer $(1m-xa) is to my xb, the more I want to do business with you. The farther apart the numbers are, I feel like you are not respecting the value I bring to the table. I don't want to do business with people that don't value my skills and respect my power.

I'm thinking that the Machiguenga and you don't really see (b) - you just see you at zero and anything above that as yay! Nothing wrong with that. I get that thinking too. Its the basis of the article - Americans are not the world.

It's dangerous to try to answer "why". I could easily rationalize an answer, but as the article shows, people's reactions are mostly cultural.

Keep in mind that the experiment is not framed as "Person A is giving you $X out of his money" but "Person A chooses the split that you and he get from the researcher's money." If it were marketed as a gift, responses to the experiment would probably be very different (including my own response.)

You might refuse if you're pre-commiting to fairness (which could be correct in some situations and decision theories).

It's not his million. It's the researcher's million, which the offerer is proposing a way to split.

The game is that if you refuse, the person loses their $999,999.

Which makes it even more horrifying. Why would you cause someone to lose something because they gave you some of it?

It's pure evil.

It's not their money "to lose".

Neither player has any right to the money until the game is over and the game isn't over until they've both made a decision. That's the difference between this game and a millionaire offering you money. You may be lucky to be offered anything in both cases but in one you are being screwed in the context of the game. It's a matter of returning the favor. It may not be the most economically sound decision but if the amount lost isn't significant to you, it doesn't matter.

> It's pure evil.

"markdown took $99 of $100?! He caused me to lose money. He's pure evil." No. It's not my money to lose but I don't like the way you played the game so I'll pass on the $1, thanks.

> If he offered me $100 I would probably walk away.

Why? Do you really consider it worth $100 to you just to prevent someone else from getting $9900, or do you just value $100 so little that you are willing to round it down to $0?

I can imagine real-world scenarios in which I might spend $100 worth of my time to try to address a problem, especially if I think that problem might affect others. (Scenarios involving an actual $100 seem even less likely, but plausible for a sufficiently egregious wrong.)

However, as a game, I'd call it free money no matter the amount; neither player did anything in particular to earn the money other than taking their time to play the game, and I don't see it as even slightly unfair of the first player to offer less money to the second, so I don't see any value in "punishing" the first player. The first player happened to get the better opportunity, and the second player gets to choose between having something or having nothing. In the game version, I'd place zero value on how much the first player gets.

Now, if I thought I could bluff the first player via advance communication into believing that I'd reject the offer if less than a certain amount, I'd certainly do it; however, if they called the bluff, I'll take what I can get.

> Why? Do you really consider it worth $100 to you just to prevent someone else from getting $9900, or do you just value $100 so little that you are willing to round it down to $0?

Not the original commenter. But yes to both.

Look up multi-round games. Strategies fit for single-round games don't work in multi-round ones. Many of our strategies and heuristics are meant for multiround games, which is what most life interactions are.

By overanalyzing the experiment and treating it "just" as a experiment, imho, you are actually defeating the point of the experiment. ymmv, just my 2 cents and other disclaimers.

This is a favorite game of mine and I've given it some thought. I think an alternate formulation might give the typical HN reader new insight in the game.

Let's say I tell you I have an idea for a company. It's a really cool idea and if we realize it we will make boatloads of money. I need your help to realize it. If you agree, you will get 20% of the company. If you don't, we won't realize it and neither of us will make any money.

Do you accept? If not, why not?

> Do you accept? If not, why not?

Almost no one on HN will agree. (I predict.) Ideas are easy. Even I have ideas. Doing something with the idea is what counts. That starts with programming, but also involves selling product and running the company. So unless the idea-person has a great record of implementing great ideas and good exits people will be unwilling to lumber themselves with a lot of work for so little return.

Maybe yes. Really depends of what can be "boatloads of money" and the current appreciation of realize it. Supposing I have nothing better to do, and that you are a good team mate, I will certainly accept. This means your proposition will be more valuable to a fresh greek student without green card than to an experimented coder at Google.

Not the same game, as there is no cost (time, money) in the original idea to compensate for. In your version you have to work to achieve a goal.

Both players are aware that the opportunity comes from just being lucky enough to be chosen to dictate the terms. I know you didn't earn the 10,000 so by you offering 100 dollars and you keeping 9,900 is insulting to some people and they do want to punish the 'lucky' player. It's not that they don't value the money they value punishing them to teach them a lesson at $100.

Would your answer be the same if I said I'd keep 9,999,999.99 and gave you only a penny. Would the value of punishing me be so low that now you'd consider to do so, or is it still free money and the absolute value doesn't affect you personally?

One should also consider other implications. If the money came from nothing, I'd probably take the penny; but I'd rather let whoever funded the research keep the money than give it to such an uncharitable person.

I know this might destroy the purpose of the experiment, but frankly, they just need to take that into account.

Would you take a penny if you knew the other guy was keeping $9999.99?

That's not really a fair question. Pennies aren't worth the hassle of having to carry them around. That's like asking if I'd be willing to let the other guy have the money if he offered me effectively nothing.

Where would you draw the line? 5c, 10c, 50c, $1 or $5?

Wow, that kinda sucks. Do you mean computer-related contracting or in general?

Over here in the good-ol UK I set my rate (which the customer knows about) and my agent tries to get as much on top as they can, but AFAICT (and I have relatives who are agents) the split is usually around 80-20. Which is still a lot of cash just for fixing me up with work...

In Texas, a few years ago, I was getting around 85%. Currently, or in other locations, I don't know. And at my current, government, contractor...I don't even want to think about it.

Look up their GSA schedule. Find your job title. A few years back I was making a little over $100K/yr for an offence contractor and they were billing around 3x that per year for my services.

That effect has been studied too, and you're right about the quantity effect. At least in India.

> Among the Machiguenga, word quickly spread of the young, square-jawed visitor from America giving away money.

I get the sense they tested the game with (for the local economy) large amounts of money in small towns, where participants probably already knew each other.

That's a very different scenario than most American iterations I've known of the game, with college students who probably don't know each other playing for relatively small amounts of money.

Nickle-and-diming your random classmate out of 10 cents is very different from taking a week's pay that could have gone to your neighbor.

Is there actually research of the same game being played amongst a group of poor Americans? Sure, with trivial numbers in a lab. But going to a poor neighbourhood and playing with money equal to a week's wages?

I would not recommend "going to a poor neighborhood in America" and trying to run such a game. It would quite likely be illegal.


Poor neighborhoods, especially urban ones, get pretty familiar with scams and money games. This is that "cultural inheritance" the authors are talking about.

This is not a zero-sum game for the neighborhood. So if you don't conduct the study quickly, you risk the participants identifying each other and agreeing to collaborate to extract the maximum possible gain from the outsider.

On the other hand, if you plan to show up and run the game quickly, you'll need to have a lot of cash on hand to pay out. (You are paying out on-the-spot, aren't you?) You're going to risk drawing a crowd. The police will likely take an interest in what's drawing the crowd and this scheme will look a whole lot like gambling.

Or you could perhaps go to the police first and tell them what you're doing. There's nothing sinister going on.

Yes, or pay lawyers to contact the right people at City Hall and bless what you're planning to do. You may be expected to get permits, provide insurance or something like that. Loads of fun.

This a reason why we have systems of permits and legal requiremnts for businesses: to discourage folks from "going into" neighborhoods and running all kinds of whacko money games on-the-spot and leaving behind a tangled mess of people angry about money owed. Without any regular procedure to enforce the perceived contracts people just go banging on each other's doors and yelling for their money and the cops eventually get involved anyway.

You may be expected to get permits, provide insurance or something like that.

Doing psych studies properly does include this kind of crap - they'd be no strangers to beaurocracy, having had plenty of experience with ethics committees.

I did a little over one year's worth of a PhD in cognition and physiology and gave up for my own reasons. But even if I was raring and to go, I could never have actually started testing subjects, as the relevant ethics committee only met once a quarter and they kept blocking my tasks for truly trivial reasons, different each time and never mentioned in the previous judgement. If your supervisor was at the committee, they could say "we'll alter that minor point" and you'd be fine, but if not, it was "please reapply for consideration next time". Yeah, in three months. I do not miss the politics of academia one jot.

One example of a blocked task was 'Does not state is complying to electrical standard Foo'. Which is a very reasonable statement to make, as part of the task involved using EEG electrodes. But the task was set to be conducted in their own university, on a floor wholly wired to specifically meet standard Foo, and one of the supervisors at the committee was a bloke who used exactly these labs for a similar thing. No dice, fuck you, come back in three months.

So yeah, getting permits isn't something new :)

Yeah. I think probably getting approval from the police would be easier than the IRB.

I reckon the Machiguenga know all the ways to suck in an anthropologist by now.

My first thought as well. I for one would have no qualms with accepting a scandalously unfair 10% of a $10M amount in cash.

That's not the point. The point is, different cultures had wildly different point that they saw as "fair". Hunter-gatherers might a large share - first in, best dressed, and the loser is content with picking over the carcass. Other societies (which emphasised gift-giving) would consider a 60% offer insultingly low. Americans saw 50% as fair.

Actually, the article says that the gift giving culture rejected 60% because it would entail a future obligation to the giver.

According to the article the participates remain anonymous to each other.

I believe part of GP's point is that, for some sizes of village, there may not be any chance that your counterpart is a stranger. If your counterpart is not a stranger, even if you don't know their exact identity, you might choose to play more generously.

Anonymous, but still within a relatively small group.

There was also another party in the game whose identity was known well enough: word quickly spread of the young, square-jawed visitor from America giving away money

The Machiguenga had traditionally been horticulturalists who lived in single-family, thatch-roofed houses in small hamlets composed of clusters of extended families.

You're saying the family would never talk about this strange newcomer and his odd games and what he got me to do?

Full text of the paper that launched the investigation into whether psychological research relies too much on people from just one kind of cultural background:

Henrich, J., Heine, S. J., & Norenzayan, A. (2010). The weirdest people in the world. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 33(2-3), 61-83.


This paper, incidentally, has the greatest opening paragraph of all time:

"In the tropical forests of New Guinea the Etoro believe that for a boy to achieve manhood he must ingest the semen of his elders. This is accomplished through ritualized rites of passage that require young male initiates to fellate a senior member. In contrast, the nearby Kaluli maintain that male initiation is only properly done by ritually delivering the semen through the initiate’s anus, not his mouth. The Etoro revile these Kaluli practices, finding them disgusting."

"whether psychological research relies too much on people from just one kind of cultural background"

Or, as someone years ago suggested, "Psychology is the study of the psychology of Psychology undergraduates."

This article is amazing. I haven't finished reading it completely but as a person who spend significant parts of my childhood in multiple countries, there are parts of it which chime with me so well.

E.g. > Recent research has shown that people in “tight” cultures, those with strong norms and low tolerance for deviant behavior (think India, Malaysia, and Pakistan), develop higher impulse control and more self-monitoring abilities than those from other places.

I remember living in India as a teenager and being confused by how rarely if ever kids in my school would display emotion on the spot when something happened. The response would come up later and it was as immature as teenagers everywhere but on the spot responses were polite.

If testing psych students was smelly - this experiment is smellier.

Large amounts of cash = take whatever is offered.

Repeat experiment with a billion dollars. I offer you say 50 million, leaving 950 million to myself. Your move. You honestly going to reject 50 million?

It's actually quite rational that they took the money. Now, what would actually be interesting is that if they rejected the large amounts of cash.

First, let's do the experiment with a billion dollars and see if you really just offer me 50 million.

That was just an example clearly illustrating my point.

I'd probably offer you a lot less if it were real - say 10-15 million.

I'm not real rich, but I'd turn you down. Someone so selfish running around with close to a billion dollars...no. The misery you could cause! Let the researcher keep their money, they will probably offer it to someone more deserving in the next round.

Doubt it. Quite sure you'd take it with both hands.

Seeing as you work in the oil industry - the above statement does strike one as being exceedingly odd. You are in the industry for the money aren't you?

That's some serious cognitive dissonance you've got there.

Furthermore, I thought you guys pumped misery out of the ground day in, day out?

>You are in the industry for the money aren't you?

Not really. In case you are interested, I am in the industry by accident.

>I thought you guys pumped misery out of the ground day in, day out?

No, we pump oil. And gas. By and large, these things are used to create a whole lot of happiness.

> Doubt it. Quite sure you'd take it with both hands.

Damn, now even I'm thinking I'd turn that down to teach your selfish ass a lesson.

You're confused because you're thinking about this (selfishly) as money being granted to you, and expecting your partner to do the same. Your parent (pun intended) is considering the whole relationship: Money will be redistributed from a researcher R to A and B only if A and B can agree on a fair distribution method. This will alter the balance of power between these three agents at a minimum. A and B should agree to this only if they both feel it is globally optimal; the more unfair the distribution A chooses, the more likely that this change is for the worse overall, which places increasing moral pressure on B to veto.

This isn't really something we can try, but I suspect you'd get turned down some reasonable percentage of the time (2%-10%, say) with such an offer, by people who have "all the money they need." Since to me the utility of the first few million is vastly larger than the last 500 million, I'd offer 50% just to avoid that rare case.

If someone is turning down $50M because they have "all the money they need", why would they then accept $500M?

The same reason, a normal person might decline $5 but accept $50 out of a pool of $100. 5% seems more unfair than 50%.

"i have all the money I need" is a different reason to "that's hardly fair!"

It's the combination of the two, I think.

That's hardly fair... but I need the money => Accept.

I don't need the money, but it's fair => Accept.

It's unfair, and I don't need the money => Turn down.

everybody with this argument is assuming the scientists didn't take the relative value into consideration for the experiment, I don't see it mentioned anywhere that they didn't


> Among the Machiguenga, word quickly spread of the young, square-jawed visitor from America giving away money. The stakes Henrich used in the game with the Machiguenga were not insubstantial—roughly equivalent to the few days’ wages they sometimes earned from episodic work with logging or oil companies. So Henrich had no problem finding volunteers. What he had great difficulty with, however, was explaining the rules, as the game struck the Machiguenga as deeply odd.

Asking subsistence farmers to split a couple days' casual labour worth of wages seems to me roughly equivalent to asking undergrads to split $100. Both might last a few days to a week. If someone offered me $20 out of $100, I'd be inclined to take it: that's a free burger and beer at the campus pub while I watch the game. As an undergrad, that's a big enough take for me to get over the insult.

Indeed that equivalence is exactly what the researches attempted to do:

>the Machiguenga’s 20-soles stake equals about 2.3 days’ pay from the logging or oil companies that occasionally hire local labor. To match this amount, I set the UCLA stake at $160, which is about 2.3 days’ pay for a graduate student working as a “reader” ($9 –$10 per hour after taxes).

However, this still fails to take into account the decreasing marginal utility of "2.3 days' pay". The typical UCLA student is wealthy enough that 2.3 days' pay is not a big deal (AFAIK most US students only work in the summer?), while for the Machiguengos an additional 2.3 days' pay might be a lot.

You've got to consider that since they're tribal/rural, they also doesn't exactly ~need~ money to survive, and extra money is extra money in the same sense, so you can get a some extra luxury, they already have food*

* Wikipedia says they take subsistance from crops, fishing, rodents... It also says they make their own clothes, so, what's a lot for really? Aren't you failing to remember they don't depend on money as much as we to survive?

You see this pattern of over generalizing in business when expanding internationally service or product offerings. 'It works here so lets just sell it there' has caused a few blunders. Cultural differences can mean colour has different interpretations and that alone can make or break your sales. Some form of product modification is necessary so that you don't get lost in the trap of generalizing.

Here's another ungated Henrich paper on ultimatum games across societies, if you're interested in the research: http://tuvalu.santafe.edu/~bowles/InSearchHomoEconomicus2001...

His book "Why Humans Cooperate" is worth a trip to the library, too. It combines some formal models, experiments, and an interesting study on the Chaldean community in Detroit (a less-WEIRD ethnic group in the middle of our WEIRD society).

The implications of this research are even more radical (and controversial) than the article suggests. The idea that culture shapes the way we think and act is interesting enough, but then the big question becomes "where does culture come from?"

Henrich (and others[1]) suggest that culture evolves through Darwinian processes of transmission and replication, and that biological and cultural evolution are coupled. Social Darwinism and sociobiology gave this idea a bad reputation, and the idea that our social norms have evolved from kin selection all the way up to impersonal market exchange is still a hard sell for economists and anthropologists alike. But it's a fascinating idea, and it's completely changed the way I think about economic behavior and human cooperation.

[1] "Not By Genes Alone" by Boyd and Richerson is another great book on this subject: http://www.press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/N/bo361...

I wonder in A/B testing you might see different results for landing page conversions with different nationalities ...

it is said for example that the dutch are more price conscious and the french more relations/support minded ...

That's actually a great insight. If anyone has links to anything further exploring this, please post them!

"Compared to Yucatec Maya communities in Mexico, however, Western urban children appear to be developmentally delayed in this regard. Children who grow up constantly interacting with the natural world are much less likely to anthropomorphize other living things into late childhood."

I didn't find the word "anthropomorphize" in the other document; and the section I found in the original document didn't seem to go into what was said in the associated article. It's a rather long article, and I'll need to read it when I get home; however, the above section doesn't connect with me.

What does "anthropomorphize" mean in this context? I understand the term to mean "to give perceptually human characteristics to". There are only two routes I can follow with this:

1) they mean a human thinking that a smiling animal is a happy animal. And that animals laugh, and grin; and have all the same facial expressions as humans, like one would see in Disney movies.

2) they're suggesting that people in the United States believe that animals continue to have emotions that they can express and other sentient thought, have a sense of desire for certain outcomes to be had, and for genuine fear and happiness.

The second possibility isn't something that only people from the US do, at all. Long before the United States was the apparent urban environment with lost connection with nature (alluded to in the article in some places), Native Americans ascribed many emotions and intentions and ideas to the animals around them, even calling coyotes tricksters; and in Biblical times, calling someone a "fox" had a particular meaning.

In short, where is this article getting the idea that humans don't anthropomorphize animals at all stages of life? That word is VERY confusing to me in this sentence; and to claim that they're using a very limited definition of anthropomorphize, where it's just human facial expressions is to be unfair to the word itself.

In the original article, it's discussed in section 2.3, starting on page 13: http://www2.psych.ubc.ca/~henrich/pdfs/Weird_People_BBS_fina...

The claim seems to be, more or less, that western urban kids interpret animals by projection or analogization of human traits rather than forming categories for the animals, more than kids in (some) other societies do. I have no idea how true that is myself (have not read anything on the subject beyond this article).

I haven't read the paper, but this seems blatantly obvious to me. Outside of most western cities, people interact with animals as food. Western children are much more likely to interact with animals as pets or, at most, "those things at the zoo". When you aren't confronted with the regular death of animals as food, you are able to form more of an emotional bond with the concept of "animal".

My thought as well. My exposure to animals as a kid was almost exclusively through cartoons, and very occasionally through zoos or other people's pets. I had no strong opinion on vegetarianism in jr. high, though some of my friends did. But I immediately developed a strong opinion on the day I actually met a chicken and a cow.

Even as an adult, I find that real animals look strange to me. I've seen so many cartoon images of skunks and giraffes and elephants in my life, and even though I know they're cartoons, when I do a google image search and photographs dominate the results, I usually find them quite alien.

Some subconscious part of my brain is totally convinced that a giraffe looks like this . . .


. . . and doesn't immediately recognize this . . .


. . . as the same animal.

So as someone that grew up on a farm/ranch you are dead on. I honestly have a hugely hard time identifying with people that have only grown up in a city and have NO idea where food comes from.

I find it excruciatingly odd people hate on large scale cow lots, but seemingly find the mass murder of small animals that live in the same place as grains to be "meh". More rabbits and other cuddly creatures die from combines than all of the evil things we do to cows in feed lots.

I've had to help out cows after they've prolapsed, and also had to help out other cows that have fought each other to near death, animals are not disney cartoons. But I've dated vegetarians and vegans (no offense to anyone there) that seem to have this unnatural viewpoint of our use of animals as food.

I see cartoon cows and can't help but think its similar to lolcats. So far removed from reality that we've anthropomorphized things to the point of ridiculousness. I'll be a bit blunt, after living around cows for 18 years of my life, I really don't have much sympathy for them. They're just as evil as humans are to each other, and they are such herd creatures it isn't funny. The bulls however always seemed to be less skittish, the females, they never acted even remotely rational or consistent. Bring calves into the picture and throw even that out the window. The bulls just fought and wanted to get into the females areas.

Just to counter your city experience a bit, not trying to say feed lots are a good way to mass produce meat, but I grew up not dealing with any of that. I have zero qualms eating a cow or chicken, but free range is loads better to eat than mass produced. I just see them as no different than wheat or other plants to be honest.

Well, thanks -- that's good input. :)

I didn't mean to be misleading. I agree with you; the strong opinion I developed was that those animals are clearly food. And that some of the excessive compassion spent on them would be better spent on people, who might actually appreciate it.

the Egyptian Anubis statues look about as much like jackals as the fox in Pinocchio looks like a real fox

I know! Art from other cultures can be so confusing!

I grew up in the pacific northwest, surrounded by a lot of examples of Inuit art. The captions always said something like, "This one is an orca," and I always thought, "If you say so!"

But I think Mickey is even more distorted! I can easily imagine someone from another culture reacting that way to the claim that he was a mouse.

I don't have a problem recognizing real mice because I've interacted with them a lot. But animals for which my only frame of reference is cartoons, well . . . my expectations of the real animals can be downright embarrassing.

I'd imagine my mental models of them would fare better if I weren't surrounded by miles and miles of endless civilization.

That still doesn't fit my example which, as far as I can tell isn't an isolated one, where a coyote was seen as a trickster (among many other things), by Native Americans. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthropomorphism seems paints anthropomorphism as something that ALL humans have done over time, often even going so far as to anthropomorphize deities.

I agree that this part is obvious.

But why would people without contact to "food animals" anthropomorphise them out of all things, not think of them as dumb food containers like plants? In the end, both end up shrink-wrapped in a supermarket. I know that my non-farmer, omnivore friends are basically saying this. Have I just picked friends that are more resistant to Disney movies than the general population? :)

Okay, so I looked more closely at that section. Apparently, my reading started on page 14, so I missed the first section.

From what I gathered, the difference is that, urban kids (why is it urban kids?) relate to animals by relating them to humans; whereas elsewhere, animals are related to other animals.

To quote the original article, "inferences are asymmetric, with inferences from human properties to mammals emerging as stronger than inference from mammals to humans, and (3) children’s inferences violate their own similarity judgments by, for example, providing stronger inference from humans to bugs than from bugs to bees (Carey 1985;1995)." emphasis mine.

If this is what the submitted link is talking about, I don't believe that's anthropomorphism.

"(why is it urban kids?)"

Because children who grow up in rural areas generally have more contact with wild animals and livestock so they develop 'healthier' attitudes towards animals at a younger age. I have a friend who grew up on a farm and had to slaughter chickens as one of his chores. He sees it as nothing to kill an animal to eat it but a lot of his and my friends who grew up exclusively in the city or suburbs cannot imagine such a thing.

The experiment is flawed. $100 means a lot more in Peru than in the US. If the experiment was conducted in Peru with $1 would the subjects there be more inclined to be fair? Another factor is that college students who are the usual subjects in the US are not as concerned about money as subsistence farmers.

They did control for that by offering an incentive that was only a few days' wages. "The stakes Henrich used in the game with the Machiguenga were not insubstantial—roughly equivalent to the few days’ wages they sometimes earned from episodic work with logging or oil companies."


$100 isn't necessarily a few days wages for those who are working in a well paying full time position but for a college student that could mean a few days of going out.

A minimum-wage ($7.25/hr) American worker would earn $100 in under 14 hours (before taxes.)

Imagine yourself playing the game but with $1,000 (or more) on offer. Would you refuse $300 to punish your partner for keeping $700? Now change the amount to $10. Would you refuse $3 to punish your partner for keeping $7? Now switch it around: how much of the money, $1,000 and $10 offers, would you give to your partner?

It's not just "refusing $300".

When the stakes go up, your partner is screwing you harder. He's not just screwing you out of $2 or $20, he's screwing you out of $200 or $2000.

Fuck him.

They're screwing you over more, but is it worth foregoing $200+ just to make a point to a stranger?

In densely connected societies it is usually worth more, since people interact frequently, so maintaining a "fair" game is very profitable in the long term, even at the cost of losing short-term. But in sparsely connected society, when interactions are rare, I'd expect it to be worth much less. I have no idea how to quantify it though :)

If it's truly a one-time thing, maybe not.

But I would claim that in "WEIRD" societies, we're constantly engaged in a game of iterative prisoner's dilemma with a string of strangers. So you're not forgoing your gain for nothing: you're forgoing your gain for one round to ensure equitable treatment in future rounds.

It's like a two-layered prisoner's dilemma.

First, imagine the simpler dilemma: you have to players, the Chooser (who chooses the split) and the Decider (who decides to take it). You just play the same game over and over again, choose and decide, choose and decide, with no role switching. If you're the Decider, you could settle for a 30-70 split, but over the dozens or hundreds of iterations that's a lot of money lost. It's worth it to forgo some short term gain to keep the Chooser in line. Eventually you end up with a 50-50 split, and your profits are maximized.

In the second layer, imagine you have two pools of Choosers and Deciders. In each game, a Chooser and a Decider are randomly matched up. In this game, you might imagine there's no incentive to forgo short-term gain for long-term, but there is. The trick is that you -- the Decider -- are not just in a Dilemma with your Chooser on each round, you're also in a Dilemma with your other Deciders.

Imagine you have two Deciders, A & B, who have each been offered the same 30-70 split by their Chooser.

If Decider A and Decider B both reject it, maybe on the next round they get each other's Choosers, who then offer them each a 50-50 split. In the long run, their profits are maximized.

If Decider A and Decider B both accept it, on the next round their Choosers might offer them an even worse split. They profit, but far less than before.

If Decider A accepts and Decider B rejects, Decider A profits maximally (next round he gets a 50-50 split from Chooser B, without forgoing any profit) and Decider B profits minimally (he forgoes profit this round and gets a 30-70 split or worse next round from Chooser A).

This is now reduced to the classic Prisoner's Dilemma. If the Deciders cooperate (by rejecting bad offers from Choosers they may never see again) they all profit, if they all defect they're all worse off in the long run, and if some defect (and accept the bad offers) while others cooperate they profit even more to the detriment of their good compatriots.

Throwing away $200+ dollars to spite a stranger cheating you out of $200+ more dollars isn't just about spite; it's about forcing them to cooperate with other strangers so you have a better ecosystem of strangers to cooperate with.

Thus the experiment.

I think the key word there is episodic; i.e., that the work wasn't consistent, and thus the "few days' wages" were possibly more valuable.

But I haven't read the study, so I could be wrong.

That's a good insight of how the income is perceived. If I knew I received a few days income all year long my perceived value of receiving income in the experiment is lower than what the locals would perceive since it is more variable and the risk that a long time passes before gaining income again.

Or possibly less; the implication I took was that they the cash jobs they took were supplemental income. The point of studying these villages is that they're economically isolated. They probably grow their own food, build their own shelters. I'd imagine they trade with the outside world -- using money earned from cash crops or working a few days here and there for a logging company or oil company -- for a small number of luxuries like metal, salt, or western clothing.

Money might be nice in such a situation, but if you're not going to starve to death or freeze to death and you don't have 300k$ in medical debt suffocating you, it might not be as valuable as a couple days extra pay is to a poverty-line worker in the US.

I totally agree with you. I also hate the way he lumps the ultimatum game with prisoners dilemma and talks how you would expect the results to be the same across all humans. Yes, I would expect the same response for the prisoner's dilemma but not for the ultimatum game for the (obvious) reasons that you and smelendez mentioned.

> urban children appear to be developmentally delayed in this regard. Children who grow up constantly interacting with the natural world are much less likely to anthropomorphize other living things into late childhood.

I can tell this is true from personal experience. I spent my early childhood (before starting school at 6) mostly in the countryside, interacting a lot with animals and nature and when I used to interact with other children who've spent all their life so far in the urban environment I experienced a lot the "are they retard or what?!" feeling about their anthropomorphizing interactions with animals, dolls and even plastic toys, that I distinctively remember even now. I imagine that they probably felt the corollary about my competitive-social skills because, as I child, I was never good at "playing for winning" and using winning at a game to establish a higher social status.

Why these results are described as something shockingly unexpected? It is a natural outcome of short-term outlook on the game. Of course, most Americans, having been raised in Western culture with specific set of values and behaviors, have more long-term outlooks on interactions with fellow members of the society, since they know they'd have to live in this society for their whole life and our culture encourages such way of thinking. On the other hand, Machiguenga saw Henrich and the game for the first and probably last time in their lives, no wonder they took short-term approach to it. It is a long known idea that one-time game and many-time game have different strategies with such games.

>"People are not “plug and play,” as he puts it, and you cannot expect to drop a Western court system or form of government into another culture and expect it to work as it does back home"

This conclusion comes a decade or more too late, I suppose, to affect U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East for the better. After doing my undergradate work in Near Eastern Culture (or, rather, about 3 credits in) it became apparent that the 'Western ideal' of justice does not translate whole-sale; that certain adaptations are necesssary to improve the human rights situation, as is a great deal of 'soul searching' to determine precisely what would constitute 'improvement.'

>>This conclusion comes a decade or more too late, I suppose, to affect U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East for the better.

I don't want to politicize the discussion too much, but I feel compelled to ask: do you really believe Bush et al. would actually care even if they had access to this research's findings?

>>I don't want to politicize the discussion too much, but I feel compelled to ask: do you really believe Bush et al. would actually care even if they had access to this research's findings?

I do believe they would. It is in the best interest of the United States to form stable, like-minded governments abroad. If this cannot be reasonably accomplished because of cultural differences, it would be beneficial to at least marginally adapt the strategy to achieve something close to it. Judging from the US installation of the Shah in Iran, the US is not above installing dictators to enrich its own interests.

Meh, it's rare that those self-same western countries got their current governments without some form of conflict. No regime change is 'plug-and-play', and it's naive to think so from the outset.

"If religion was necessary in the development of large-scale societies, can large-scale societies survive without religion? Norenzayan points to parts of Scandinavia with atheist majorities that seem to be doing just fine"

For the moment.

The situation in Europe is very interesting. There is a strong atheist movement, yet catholics seem to be on a comeback lately, and the mostly muslim immigrant population growing too - and at an even faster pace.

If religion says "go forth and populate the earth", and if atheist have less than 2.1 children, how long until they get outnumber and forced to chance their allegiance by the religous - at gunpoint if necessary? [nobody expects the spanish inquisition :-)]

So I would not base any conclusion on a punctual observation when you have partial derivative pointing to different conclusion in a longer timeframe.

Counter example : if large-scale societies survive fine without religion, how come there are so few of them ? Why do they have a tendency disappear in history, and be replaced by religious societies?

Also, the method of the prisoner game is questionable. The article says the amount was not insubstantial - around several days of work, but does not explain how it was chosen or how it was tested.

I would be very interested to know about the price elasticity of the acceptance rate and the price elascticity of the percentage offered.

I mean, do people in this group have a constant acceptance (fully inelastic - they always accept) or can you get to a point where they refuse because they think it's unfair?

Here's a quick example - go to any fast food join, eat normally, then when you have to leave, prepare the exact amount of cash in one side, and the tip in the other side of the table, and say to server the food was not to your taste, therefore you are leaving only a one cent tip (or a dime)

See if they take the free money, or if they feel so insulted that they refuse. Rince and repeat until you figure the amount they will accept without feeling insulted.

So I really wonder if there could be a cash amount where the remote people from this tribe would react just the same as all of us - which would just point to a calibration problem.

The most populous nation on Earth is by Western standards non-religious -- China. I do not mean that everyone is an atheist as demanded by communism. Rather, the folk "religions" that are most common (there is a large portion of the population, mostly educated urbanites, who are not believers in these either) say very little in the way of the issues you mentioned. They have more to do with granting good luck and curing disease.

Obviously this has not hurt their population.

This has not hurt the population yet, but the one child policy will certainly wreak havoc the country if it is maintained for too long.

When it will be removed (it will have to), I wonder which group will take the most advantage of it and grow faster - the "non religious by western standard" or the various ethnic groups - say in the XianJiang.

Also, the fact that an authoritarian communist country where atheism is promoted still couldn't remove the religious allegiances is interesting. The former USSR tried the same - and failed.

The one child policy does not apply to ethnic minorities.

They are therefore already taking advantage of it, but I wonder when it will be removed it the growth differential will equalize.

My guess is that it won't, and the religious represent a very significant percentage of the population - until they become the majority.

Without willing to insult anyone, I wonder if a human group growth with religion, they reach decadence with atheism - then stats again, eventually with a different religion, in a loop.

EDIT: the point is not about "cultural group" but religion. Are these minorities becoming atheist, or do they keep some religious self identification? I guess they still identify as such, even if they don't practice. Culture is hard to bring back, but religion can grow back very quickly

Equating atheism to decadence is pretty funny when you're familiar with, say, the history of the Catholic Church, almost since its inception, or the history of the religious classes of the Muslim world.

Actually, even without the restrictions of the One Child Policy, the ethnic minorities in China are disappearing as distinct cultural groups. Homogenization of culture is a powerful force.

Ironically for your point, this issue seems to be most severely affecting the Uyghurs and the Tibetans, arguably the most religious minorities in China.

>If religion says "go forth and populate the earth", and if atheist have less than 2.1 children, how long until they get outnumber and forced to chance their allegiance by the religous - at gunpoint eventually?

Well, that escalated quickly.

"if atheist have less than 2.1 children, how long until they get outnumber and forced to chance their allegiance by the religous - at gunpoint if necessary?"

So you make pretty invalid assumptions here, that we reproduce asexually into identical beings, and more than that, even including our believes. So religious parents have religious children, atheist parents have atheist children. That assumption is totally false.

I had personal contact with atheist being made in religious schools as they reacted strongly, and when others tried to force them to believe, they will find a way to prevail.

My uncle is a teacher and one of the girls in class asked him at the end of the class about God,she was curious as her parents, specially her mother, forbid this girl to know about religion. My uncle answered the question and days later had this furious mother trying her best to fire the teacher. Guess what the girl will do when grows up?

My neighbors are highly atheist, their children decided to baptize and go to church on their own. They respect their children decision.

Bad assumptions, bad conclusions.

I'm not saying there is a 100% relation between the parents beliefs and the children.

But all things equal, is a religious couple more likely to have religious children, or atheist children? Is it more than half the time ? If it is, that's enough to make assumptions, even if counter example exist.

"when others tried to force them to believe, they will find a way to prevail"

Not so. I'm quite interested by the experience of atheists in north africa - how they organize and such. In an oppressive society, atheist have to hide - they don't prevail. Religions in general have a problem with atheism, as mentioned in the article about religion from the same author that was separately posted.

I'm not taking sides here- I'm just trying to figure out the dynamic.

It seems to me that while religions can be self perpetrating, atheism is not, and in the long run, it always ends up replaced by a religion.

I just submitted


one of Norenzayan's articles for a general readership about the issue of influence of religion on societies. I invite you to join the discussion there too.

Where I live (Prague), religion among younger people is basically non-existent.

But that won't shape history, unless these people are also having children. If atheism coincides with having <2 children, it will only be a series of disconnected blips in statistics.

Why do you assume theism is a purely hereditary trait? A strong culture can influence other people's children.

Only temporarily, i.e., until they die having had < 2 children of their own.

You seem to be begging the question.

The point is that if they influence other people's children into being atheists too, then the atheist section of the population grows.

If your argument is that an entirely atheist population would eventually die out altogether (having no other children to convert) then I misunderstood, but still that an equilibrium will be reached.

I believe you are right that the equilibrium will be determined by the conversion and birth/death coefficients. But that equilibrium may still be at the point of zero atheists! The continued existence of every group still depends on (children + conversions_to - conversions_from) > 2.0 (per breeding pair).

Furthermore, it seems plausible that conversion to a group depends positively on the dominance that group (e.g., more opportunities to be converted as you interact with random others in daily life).

So all else being equal (or unknown), then my money's on the group with the highest birth rate.

Ah, so I did misinterpret your statement first time 'round?

I was thinking that "children" may be a function of total population. At least below some threshold people may have more kids than they would otherwise out of a sense of "duty", or the desire for continuation of the species (which seems to be inherent -- people sacrificing themselves to save "the world" usually do it to safe humanity).

We'll just go with me being unclear and possibly confused on that first round.

If, in reality, people are having children out of a sense of duty to save the world from extinction due to underpopulation then I'm wondering why I didn't get the memo.

Not that they are having them for that reason currently, but it's not implausible they would start were the total human population of earth to drop below, say, 100k.

Are you trying to say that kids always follow the religion of their parents?

No - but see marshray's response - if one child of a theist couple "converts" to Atheism and then has 0-1 children, whereas the other child keeps the religion and has 2-5 children, that will not change a lot.

Though I think I would need a proper simulation now to see if it works out as I imagine it to work out... :)

As much as I like the article it really left thinking that there is much left to investigate.

Does the relative dollar amount vs the absolute dollar amount affect the ultimatum game?

How does differing income levels affect the results.

It does show the limitations of scientific study and how the studies themselves can be generalized or not having controlled and explored many possibilities that indeed may be factors.

I think my basic problem with this is economics. I'd be happy with a days pay, even if it meant the other guy got a weeks pay. But I might squabble about 10 cents when the guy got 90 cents.

I say squabble because I don't mean fight or be offended. I might argue for the fun of the argument, not the actual value of the money. I wouldn't accept the 10 cents, knowing that we both then got nothing because $1 doesn't mean that much to me.

Generous financial offers were turned down because people’s minds had been shaped by a cultural norm that taught them that the acceptance of generous gifts brought burdensome obligations.

More on this from an English anthropologist in Debt: The First 5000 Years, a history of money and currency that is exceedingly timely given the current emergence of Bitcoin and Ripple, and the strange survival of the Swiss WIR.

If we look at the history of science, most things that we held as fact many years ago are now considered either totally false or at least marred by misunderstanding or lack of data.

Extrapolated that means that almost all of our current scientific beliefs will be "proven" false or at least considered marred by misunderstanding or lack of data at some point in the future.

Humans can not understand everything, and they never will.

Unfortunately, rationalism is needed to prove rationalism, and once science is "accepted fact" and we all accept things like "round", "sphere", and "Earth" then we assume we have made progress.

But, there is not a single fact that could not be disproved by more evidence. Even "the Earth is round" could be proven to be wrong and we consider it part amorphous-hyperconical-hypertubular in the future, or perhaps we prove scientifically that we live in a simulation/a game and the universe, shapes, Earth, etc. is a simple allusion, comparable to the blocky pixel graphics in old Atari 2600 games.

Please read this: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simulation_hypothesis

While it is certainly possible that we understand one or more eternal truths that span all that exists in every dimension and every universe, considering the age, maturity, and abilities of the human race, it is extremely doubtful that we have made much progress or that we ever will. Science is great when approached from the standpoint of wonder and discovery, but it is terrible when it comes to "truth". Don't believe me? There is a whole religion devoted to the belief system that many are infected or affected by aliens (Scientology); many accept that this faith is based on a science fiction novel a.k.a. fiction, but many believe it is true. In the same way, many are convinced that science has elucidated truths, even though we don't know that it has or ever will. Yet, you accept science as truth in part. That is an irrational belief because the only way to accept it as rational is to have faith that it is rational. Rationalism is nothing without faith, but faith exists without rationalism.

It is an interesting experiment but I don't think that it necessarily implies there is a huge difference in human psychology - if you did the experiment with a poor (i.e. homeless) American, I am pretty sure they would accept any amount of money. To add to this, I think there was probably some confusion when explaining the rules of the game to the subjects.

Just because someone's homeless doesn't mean they've given up all dignity, and aren't offended by unfair treatment. I think you might be surprised what a lot of indigent folks would refuse because it was an inequitable transaction.

The R in WEIRD is "Rich".

As a western-born programmer who has spent much time in East Asia, I found the linked paper Culture and Systems of Thought: Holistic vs. Analytic Cognition even more interesting. http://www-personal.umich.edu/~nisbett/images/cultureThought...

Slightly OT, but the second image in that article is bogus. It's a photo of Fijian women on a Fijian mat (woven pandanus leaves). It's not Peruvian as claimed by the caption.

I find it weird that nobody questions the use of the word 'american' in the article. Would the Machiguenga not also be (at least South-) Americans?

People from the United States of America are called (in English) "Americans" for about the same reason that people from Estados Unidos Mexicanos are called "Mexicans"--that is the most suitable general designation for those people that is distinctive from how people from other countries are designated. The usage in Spanish is a little bit more complicated, but there isn't much confusion about how to write English on this point.

The use of "American" as a stand-alone term, for better or for worse, means a person from the United States. It persists largely because of the difficulty in producing an ajectival (demonym) from the term United States. Questioning it now, when there is clearly no real confusion (like, for example, Indian/American Indian/Native American/Indian American) is prescriptivist and hair-splitting.

> Questioning it now, when there is clearly no real confusion [...] is prescriptivist and hair-splitting.

Probably. But it was the first thing that sprang to my mind while reading the article. In an article titled "We Aren't The World" i would have expected a bit more caution.

The United States of America is the only country that has America in its name. Thus, Americans for short.

People who live in the United States of Mexico (Estados Unidos Mexicanos) are called Mexicans for the same reason.

Also, American and Western culture are used practically interchangeably. I find this quite ironic.

They aren't used interchangeably in the linked article. In the article, Americans are singled out as being particularly "weird" even compared to other "Western" nations.

Why is that ironic? (Sorry if I'm being really stupid here... :\ )

Sorry, slipped on the mod. It is pretty funny myopia.

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