Westerners vs. the World: We Are the Weird Ones

Economics Experiments

Joseph Heinrich conducts behavioural economics experiments in the countryside of southern Chile.

Adam McDowell writes in the National Post

The Ultimatum Game works like this: You are given $100 and asked to share it with someone else. You can offer that person any amount and if he accepts the offer, you each get to keep your share. If he rejects your offer, you both walk away empty-handed.

How much would you offer? If it’s close to half the loot, you’re a typical North American. Studies show educated Americans will make an average offer of $48, whether in the interest of fairness or in the knowledge that too low an offer to their counterpart could be rejected as unfair. If you’re on the other side of the table, you’re likely to reject offers right up to $40.

It seems most of humanity would play the game differently. Joseph Henrich of the University of British Columbia took the Ultimatum Game into the Peruvian Amazon as part of his work on understanding human co-operation in the mid-1990s and found that the Machiguenga considered the idea of offering half your money downright weird — and rejecting an insultingly low offer even weirder.

“I was inclined to believe that rejection in the Ultimatum Game would be widespread. With the Machiguenga, they felt rejecting was absurd, which is really what economists think about rejection,” Dr. Henrich says. “It’s completely irrational to turn down free money. Why would you do that?”

Read more in the National Post

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  • http://twitter.com/nw15062 Nathan Willard

    To the other person what is better one dollar or no dollar, I would offer them more then one just to be fair but if I was offered a dollar I would take, anyone who refuses is doing so to spite the other person. Which brings us to the American mentality, “if I cant have it then why should you.”

  • http://twitter.com/nw15062 Nathan Willard

    To the other person what is better one dollar or no dollar, I would offer them more then one just to be fair but if I was offered a dollar I would take, anyone who refuses is doing so to spite the other person. Which brings us to the American mentality, “if I cant have it then why should you.”

  • TheWrongStuff

    Disregarding completely the pretentious argument of what is better, America or the rest of the world and vice versa; I would like to address the obscene amount of money it must have taken for this so called researcher to travel to the Peruvian rain forest and ask a bunch of dirt poor tribesmen if they would take an American dollar of any amount if asked as opposed to nothing.

    I would like to propose the test be performed in my city. It would require some additional stimuli and criteria; namely a Gloch 9, that hundred dollars, the contents or your wallet, and probably your shoes. Now that is an ultimatum test that everyone wins.

    • Haystack

      I think it’s worth learning about other cultures, and about the fundamentals of altruism and cooperation in human societies. Social scientists are trained to respect other cultures, and often lend assistance as advocates or intermediaries between the societies they’re studying and the outside world. They’re keenly aware of the power relationships involved in conducting research among poor or marginalized communities–more so than just about anyone else they might encounter.

      • TheWrongStuff

        OK. Give me your fuckin wallet.

      • Rufus

        Thank you for that completely pointless post…and now mine pointing out how pointless yours was….

        • Haystack

          …or rather, pointing out that you missed the point.

  • TheWrongStuff

    Disregarding completely the pretentious argument of what is better, America or the rest of the world and vice versa; I would like to address the obscene amount of money it must have taken for this so called researcher to travel to the Peruvian rain forest and ask a bunch of dirt poor tribesmen if they would take an American dollar of any amount if asked as opposed to nothing.

    I would like to propose the test be performed in my city. It would require some additional stimuli and criteria; namely a Gloch 9, that hundred dollars, the contents or your wallet, and probably your shoes. Now that is an ultimatum test that everyone wins.

  • Liam_McGonagle

    When I saw the headline I expected to be thoroughly berated as a perverse Westerner. Not quite.

    True it brought to the surface some interesting but rarely examined biases. But on the whole, I felt, although this may not have been the author’s intention, rather proud of the West. Apparently we are generally more generous than the rest of the world. And the unique contribution of the intellectual Enlighentment era. Let’s not forget about that.

    Why don’t we spend more time exporting those cultural products instead of the failed kleptocratic model of capitalism that doesn’t make ANYBODY happy?

  • Anonymous

    When I saw the headline I expected to be thoroughly berated as a perverse Westerner. Not quite.

    True it brought to the surface some interesting but rarely examined biases. But on the whole, I felt, although this may not have been the author’s intention, rather proud of the West. Apparently we are generally more generous than the rest of the world. And the unique contribution of the intellectual Enlighentment era. Let’s not forget about that.

    Why don’t we spend more time exporting those cultural products instead of the failed kleptocratic model of capitalism that doesn’t make ANYBODY happy?

  • Haystack

    I think it’s worth learning about other cultures, and about the fundamentals of altruism and cooperation in human societies. Social scientists are trained to respect other cultures, and often lend assistance as advocates or intermediaries between the societies they’re studying and the outside world. They’re keenly aware of the power relationships involved in conducting research among poor or marginalized communities–more so than just about anyone else they might encounter.

  • TheWrongStuff

    OK. Give me your fuckin wallet.

  • Vox Penii

    Western culture is bad, non-western culture is good, I get it, I get it, I get it … but it’s wrong; it’s an attempt to apply the Marxist Materialist Dialectic to a new context because the Dialectic was disproved re: the bourgeois vs. proletariat:

    “the formerly monolithic
    Marxist socialist movement splintered in response to the
    crisis of socialism. Abandoning the traditional economic class
    analysis’s implication that effort should be focused upon achieving
    a universal class consciousness, Left thinkers and activists focused
    on narrower sub-divisions of the human species, concentrating
    their efforts on the special issues of women and of racial and ethnic
    minorities. Broadly Marxist themes of conflict and oppression
    carried over into the new splinter groups’ analyses, but again the
    dominant theme was equality. As with the economic proletariat, it
    was hard to deny that women and racial and ethnic minority
    groups had made significant gains in the liberal capitalist nations.
    So again the criticism of capitalism could not be that it drove those
    groups to outright poverty or slavery or some other form of oppression. Instead the criticism focused on the lack of equality
    between groups—not, for example, that women were being forced
    into poverty, but rather that as a group they had been held back
    from achieving economic equality with men.
    Common to all of these variations was a new emphasis on the
    principle of equality and a de-emphasis on the principle of need. In
    effect, in changing the ethical standard from need to equality, all of
    these new varieties of Left-socialism had resolved to quote Marx
    less and to quote Rousseau more. [...]

    Using contradictory discourses as a political strategy

    In postmodern discourse, truth is rejected explicitly and consistency
    can be a rare phenomenon. Consider the following pairs of claims.
    * On the one hand, all truth is relative; on the other hand,
    postmodernism tells it like it really is.
    * On the one hand, all cultures are equally deserving of
    respect; on the other, Western culture is uniquely
    destructive and bad.
    * Values are subjective—but sexism and racism are really
    evil.
    * Technology is bad and destructive—and it is unfair that
    some people have more technology than others.
    * Tolerance is good and dominance is bad—but when
    postmodernists come to power, political correctness
    follows.

    There is a common pattern here: Subjectivism and relativism in one
    breath, dogmatic absolutism in the next. Postmodernists are well
    aware of the contradictions—especially since their opponents relish
    pointing them out at every opportunity. And of course a postmodernist
    can respond dismissingly by citing Hegel—’Those are
    merely Aristotelian logical contradictions‛—but it is one thing to
    say that and quite another to sustain Hegelian contradictions
    psychologically.

    “The pattern therefore raises the question of which side of the
    contradiction is deepest for postmodernism. Is it that postmodernists
    really are committed to relativism, but occasionally lapse into
    absolutism? Or are the absolutist commitments deepest and the
    relativism a rhetorical cover?

    “Consider three more examples, this time of clashes between
    postmodernist theory and historical fact.
    * Postmodernists say that the West is deeply racist, but they
    know very well that the West ended slavery for the first
    time ever, and that it is only in places where Western ideas
    have made inroads that racist ideas are on the defensive.
    * They say that the West is deeply sexist, but they know very
    well that Western women were the first to get the vote,
    contractual rights, and the opportunities that most women
    in the world are still without.
    * They say that Western capitalist countries are cruel to their
    poorer members, subjugating them and getting rich off
    them, but they know very well that the poor in the West are
    far richer than the poor anywhere else, both in terms of
    material assets and the opportunities to improve their
    condition.

    “In explaining the contradiction between the relativism and the
    absolutist politics, there are three possibilities.
    1. The first possibility is that the relativism is primary and the
    absolutist politics are secondary. Qua philosophers, the postmodernists
    push relativism, but qua particular individuals
    they happen to believe a particular version of absolutist
    politics.
    2. The second possibility is that the absolutist politics are
    primary, while the relativism is a rhetorical strategy that is
    used to advance that politics.
    3. The third possibility is that both the relativism and the
    absolutism coexist in postmodernism, but the contradictions
    between them simply do not matter psychologically to those
    who hold them.

    “The first option can be ruled out as a possibility. Subjectivism
    and its consequent relativism cannot be primary to postmodernism
    because of the uniformity of the politics of postmodernism. If subjectivity and relativism were primary, then postmodernists would be adopting political positions across the spectrum, and that
    simply is not happening. Postmodernism is therefore first a political
    movement, and a brand of politics that has only lately come to
    relativism.” Stephen Hicks, Ph.D., Explaining Postmodernism (2004)

    two related quotes worth pondering:

    “Try to tell a Russian housewife, who trudges miles on foot in sub-zero weather in order to spend hours standing in line at a state store dispensing food rations, that America is defiled by shopping centers, expressways and family cars.” Ayn Rand

    “Few things attract less attention than the achievements of the West.” Thomas Sowell

    • Andrew

      The only things wrong with America are the people who think there’s anything at all wrong with America.

    • KewGardensNYC

      You cover some important points, but perhaps you should not presume that Post-modern theory, or the West itself, is monolithic or consistent. Historically, the church sought this and it was never attained, neither within or without. There are always both relative and absolute phenomena within Western thought and its a false dichotomy to assign one quality as being characteristic. Yes, as you know, there have been periods when political or religio/politico organizations went to great efforts to make their thought “standard” but even in the age of Pericles there has always been debate and doubt. (Indeed, that is a basic element of Pericles’ rule of the bickering people.)
      I would go as far to say that a salient aspect of our civilization has been its ability to self-analyze and criticize. Only Buddhism of all the other world systems has this quality and I could make a strong case for the 3rd BCE influence of Buddhism on the West, via Asoka’s missionaries to Alexandria–that hotbed of ideas which became gnosticism,Christianity and political theory of divine rulers, ordained by God.
      Like it or not, we are heirs to a complex and self-contradictory heritage and I think its very healthy. And while I have a great respect for Islam and Confucius’ thought, I am kept busy just trying to know my own tradition.
      Many thanks for your thoughtful post.

  • Vox Penii

    Western culture is bad, non-western culture is good, I get it, I get it, I get it … but it’s wrong; it’s an attempt to apply the Marxist Materialist Dialectic to a new context because the Dialectic was disproved re: the bourgeois vs. proletariat:

    “the formerly monolithic
    Marxist socialist movement splintered in response to the
    crisis of socialism. Abandoning the traditional economic class
    analysis’s implication that effort should be focused upon achieving
    a universal class consciousness, Left thinkers and activists focused
    on narrower sub-divisions of the human species, concentrating
    their efforts on the special issues of women and of racial and ethnic
    minorities. Broadly Marxist themes of conflict and oppression
    carried over into the new splinter groups’ analyses, but again the
    dominant theme was equality. As with the economic proletariat, it
    was hard to deny that women and racial and ethnic minority
    groups had made significant gains in the liberal capitalist nations.
    So again the criticism of capitalism could not be that it drove those
    groups to outright poverty or slavery or some other form of oppression. Instead the criticism focused on the lack of equality
    between groups—not, for example, that women were being forced
    into poverty, but rather that as a group they had been held back
    from achieving economic equality with men.
    Common to all of these variations was a new emphasis on the
    principle of equality and a de-emphasis on the principle of need. In
    effect, in changing the ethical standard from need to equality, all of
    these new varieties of Left-socialism had resolved to quote Marx
    less and to quote Rousseau more. [...]

    Using contradictory discourses as a political strategy

    In postmodern discourse, truth is rejected explicitly and consistency
    can be a rare phenomenon. Consider the following pairs of claims.
    * On the one hand, all truth is relative; on the other hand,
    postmodernism tells it like it really is.
    * On the one hand, all cultures are equally deserving of
    respect; on the other, Western culture is uniquely
    destructive and bad.
    * Values are subjective—but sexism and racism are really
    evil.
    * Technology is bad and destructive—and it is unfair that
    some people have more technology than others.
    * Tolerance is good and dominance is bad—but when
    postmodernists come to power, political correctness
    follows.

    There is a common pattern here: Subjectivism and relativism in one
    breath, dogmatic absolutism in the next. Postmodernists are well
    aware of the contradictions—especially since their opponents relish
    pointing them out at every opportunity. And of course a postmodernist
    can respond dismissingly by citing Hegel—’Those are
    merely Aristotelian logical contradictions‛—but it is one thing to
    say that and quite another to sustain Hegelian contradictions
    psychologically.

    “The pattern therefore raises the question of which side of the
    contradiction is deepest for postmodernism. Is it that postmodernists
    really are committed to relativism, but occasionally lapse into
    absolutism? Or are the absolutist commitments deepest and the
    relativism a rhetorical cover?

    “Consider three more examples, this time of clashes between
    postmodernist theory and historical fact.
    * Postmodernists say that the West is deeply racist, but they
    know very well that the West ended slavery for the first
    time ever, and that it is only in places where Western ideas
    have made inroads that racist ideas are on the defensive.
    * They say that the West is deeply sexist, but they know very
    well that Western women were the first to get the vote,
    contractual rights, and the opportunities that most women
    in the world are still without.
    * They say that Western capitalist countries are cruel to their
    poorer members, subjugating them and getting rich off
    them, but they know very well that the poor in the West are
    far richer than the poor anywhere else, both in terms of
    material assets and the opportunities to improve their
    condition.

    “In explaining the contradiction between the relativism and the
    absolutist politics, there are three possibilities.
    1. The first possibility is that the relativism is primary and the
    absolutist politics are secondary. Qua philosophers, the postmodernists
    push relativism, but qua particular individuals
    they happen to believe a particular version of absolutist
    politics.
    2. The second possibility is that the absolutist politics are
    primary, while the relativism is a rhetorical strategy that is
    used to advance that politics.
    3. The third possibility is that both the relativism and the
    absolutism coexist in postmodernism, but the contradictions
    between them simply do not matter psychologically to those
    who hold them.

    “The first option can be ruled out as a possibility. Subjectivism
    and its consequent relativism cannot be primary to postmodernism
    because of the uniformity of the politics of postmodernism. If subjectivity and relativism were primary, then postmodernists would be adopting political positions across the spectrum, and that
    simply is not happening. Postmodernism is therefore first a political
    movement, and a brand of politics that has only lately come to
    relativism.” Stephen Hicks, Ph.D., Explaining Postmodernism (2004)

    two related quotes worth pondering:

    “Try to tell a Russian housewife, who trudges miles on foot in sub-zero weather in order to spend hours standing in line at a state store dispensing food rations, that America is defiled by shopping centers, expressways and family cars.” Ayn Rand

    “Few things attract less attention than the achievements of the West.” Thomas Sowell

  • emperorreagan

    I would just mug the researcher, since they’ve apparently got hundreds of dollars to throw around in games.

  • emperorreagan

    I would just mug the researcher, since they’ve apparently got hundreds of dollars to throw around in games.

  • Andrew

    The only things wrong with America are the people who think there’s anything at all wrong with America.

  • Synapse

    This is just another edition of Game Theory. Particularly Ultimatum theory. Another thing missed by this article is the potential for exploitation which probably isn’t as popular outside of the western world. This is usually examined in editions of the game with 10,000 or a million dollars where the person who is on the receiving end turns the offer around entirely to be in his favor: i.e. give me 90% or you get nothing since I won’t take it.

  • Synapse

    This is just another edition of Game Theory. Particularly Ultimatum theory. Another thing missed by this article is the potential for exploitation which probably isn’t as popular outside of the western world. This is usually examined in editions of the game with 10,000 or a million dollars where the person who is on the receiving end turns the offer around entirely to be in his favor: i.e. give me 90% or you get nothing since I won’t take it.

  • Rufus

    Thank you for that completely pointless post…and now mine pointing out how pointless yours was….

  • KewGardensNYC

    You cover some important points, but perhaps you should not presume that Post-modern theory, or the West itself, is monolithic or consistent. Historically, the church sought this and it was never attained, neither within or without. There are always both relative and absolute phenomena within Western thought and its a false dichotomy to assign one quality as being characteristic. Yes, as you know, there have been periods when political or religio/politico organizations went to great efforts to make their thought “standard” but even in the age of Pericles there has always been debate and doubt. (Indeed, that is a basic element of Pericles’ rule of the bickering people.)
    I would go as far to say that a salient aspect of our civilization has been its ability to self-analyze and criticize. Only Buddhism of all the other world systems has this quality and I could make a strong case for the 3rd BCE influence of Buddhism on the West, via Asoka’s missionaries to Alexandria–that hotbed of ideas which became gnosticism,Christianity and political theory of divine rulers, ordained by God.
    Like it or not, we are heirs to a complex and self-contradictory heritage and I think its very healthy. And while I have a great respect for Islam and Confucius’ thought, I am kept busy just trying to know my own tradition.
    Many thanks for your thoughtful post.

  • Haystack

    …or rather, pointing out that you missed the point.