Meanness is fraught with social risks

December 17th, 2008 - 2:39 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Dec 17 (IANS) Beware of being mean. It is fraught with social risks and vitiating human transactions in a never ending cycle.”For instance in driving, if you are kind and let someone go in front of you, that driver may be considerate in response,” said Boaz Keysar, professor of psychology at the University of Chicago and co-author of a new study on the subject.

“But if you cut someone off, that person may react very aggressively, and this could escalate to road rage,” he added.

“And so it goes, because of such differential perception, they respond more and more strongly. Small slights could escalate to unbelievable, irrational feuds,” he explained.

The slighted one would seek to vent his displeasure on the second or third person down the road. In turn, his victims too would act likewise, multiplying its negative effects.

Feeling slighted can leave one smarting which has a bigger impact than being the recipient of perceived generosity, even if the net value of the social transaction is the same, the research on reciprocity-giving and taking-shows.

“Negative reciprocity, or taking, escalates,” said Boaz Keysar, professor of psychology at the University of Chicago (U-C) and co-author of the paper.

The situation can escalate when the person doing the slighting doesn’t appreciate how strongly the slight is being experienced, Keysar said. “The one receiving the slight cannot imagine that the slighter lacks that appreciation.”

Nicholas Epley, professor at U-C Booth School of Business, and undergraduates Benjamin Converse and Jiunwen Wang joined Keysar in the research.

To examine how people respond to situations involving reciprocity, researchers conducted experiments on campus as well as in downtown Chicago with people on the street.

One such experiment tested 40 college students. The students were divided into two groups and asked to conduct experiments that began in two different ways using money which the players didn’t actually keep at the end.

In the first group, one player learned that another player had $100 and was going to share it. In each situation, the player with the money the other player $50.

When the roles were reversed and the players who were the first to receive received $100. In that exchange, those players gave their partners on average $49.50, said an UC release.

In a companion experiment, the scholars found that the act of taking had a far bigger impact on people’s responses than did the act of sharing.

A player received $100 from which another player was able to take as much as desired. That player took $50, leaving the first player with $50 just like in the sharing experiment.

But when the roles were reversed, the first players took back much more, an average of $48, leaving the partners with an average of $42.

Another experiment confirmed the pattern, showing that taking quickly escalated as players became increasingly greedy over repeated exchanges.

These findings were published in the December issue of Psychological Science.

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