The Ultimatum Game
It is in our best interests as a society to want others to succeed. If other people succeed, we really are better off. Think about it. If your friends and other members of your community have better jobs, better education, better access to services and better/adequate pay, they would be able to contribute even more back to their communities – wherein they and everyone else (including you) would benefit.
However, we don’t naturally act like this is real life. The Ultimatum Game was an experiment that studied the willingness of people to contribute to a common pool of money over time, in return for everybody getting a specific and favorable payout.
Everyone contributes and everyone benefits.
In reality what happens is that people begin to realize that even when they don’t contribute they still reap the rewards. A classic example of this is the effort people make to evade taxes, while still benefiting from public services and infrastructure that other people’s tax dollars provide.
As a result of this, people feel cheated because some members of their community are getting more than their fair share. They then stop contributing to the overall pool even though they would be better off by doing so.
Primates have been found to do the same thing. A story from a recent book I read, The Wisdom of Crowds, pointed out a study conducted with Chimps. The researchers had chimps trade pebbles for small pieces of cucumber. One pebble = one cucumber. After some time, the rules changed and some chimps were given a grape (a much tastier snack!) instead of the cucumber. The other Chimps, upon seeing this…would react in disgust, either throwing away their cucumbers or in some cases even refusing to turn in their pebbles at all.
They would forgo a modest payoff just because someone else got something better.
Think of how this unconscious pattern plays out in your own life and in your own community. Think about the improvements we could make in the world by letting go of greed and jealously and really acting in our own best interests – which often are in the best interests of the community as a whole – and not getting sucked into the Ultimatum Game.