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Influenced by Self-Interest, Humans Less Concerned About Inequity To Others

Strongly influenced by their self-interest, humans do not protest being overcompensated, even when there are no consequences, researchers in Georgia State University’s Brains and Behavior Program have found.

This could imply that humans are less concerned than previously believed about the inequity of others, researchers said. Their findings are published in the journal Brain Connectivity. These findings suggest humans’ sense of unfairness is affected by their self-interest, indicating the interest humans show in others’ outcomes is a recently evolved propensity.

It has long been known that humans show sensitivity when they are at a disadvantage by refusing or protesting outcomes more often when they are offered less money than a social partner. But the research team of physics graduate students Bidhan Lamichhane and Bhim Adhikari and Brains and Behavior faculty Dr. Sarah Brosnan, associate professor of psychology, and Dr. Mukesh Dhamala, associate professor of physics and astronomy, reports that, contrary to expectations, humans do not show any sensitivity when they are overcompensated. They conclude that humans are more interested in their own outcomes than those of others.

“A true sense of fairness means that I get upset if I get paid more than you because I don’t think that’s fair,” Brosnan said. “We thought that people would protest quite a bit in the fixed decision game because it’s a cost-free way to say, ‘This isn’t fair.’ But that’s not what we saw at all. People protested higher offers at roughly the same rate that they refused offers where they got more, indicating that this lack of refusal in advantaged situations may not be because of the cost of refusing. It may just be because people don’t care as much as we thought they did if they’re getting more than someone else.”

The researchers also used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study the underlying brain mechanisms from 18 participants, who played three two-person economic exchange games that involved inequity in their favor and not in their favor. Overcompensated offers triggered a different brain circuit than undercompensated offers and indicate that people may be responding to overcompensation as if it were a reward. This could explain the lack of refusals in this unfair situation, researchers said.

Each game involved three offers for how $100 would be split: fair (amount between $40 to $60), unfair-low (disadvantageous to the subject, amount between $0 to $20) and unfair-overcompensated (advantageous to the subject, amount between $80 to $100). Participants played 30 rounds of each game and earned about two percent of the total amount from the games.

In the first two games, the subject received an offer for how much money they would receive and were then asked whether they wanted to reject or accept it. In the Ultimatum Game, if the responder rejected the offer, neither player received any money, leading to a fair outcome. In the Impunity Game, if the subject rejected the offer, only he or she lost the payoff, meaning the outcome was even more unfair than the offer. The subject got nothing, but the partner still got their proposed amount. In the Fixed Decision Game, the subject could choose to protest or not protest the offers, but this didn’t change the outcome for either player. This allowed subjects to protest offers without an associated cost.

The blood-oxygen level dependent signals of the brain were recorded by an MRI scanner as participants played the games. The results of brain response provided new insights into the functional role of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and related networks of brain regions for advantageous inequity and protest.

A network of brain regions consisting of the left caudate, right cingulate and right thalamus had a higher level of activity for overcompensated offers than for fair offers. For protest, a different network, consisting of the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, left ventrolateral prefrontal cortex and left substantia nigra, came into play. The researchers also mapped out how the brain activity flow occurred within these networks during decision-making.

Right now tumblr is one of the few things that is making me feel good about myself


I’ve got a lot of negative shit going on and stuff I’m worried about in my life and I’m definitely not happy with where my life is at right now.

People admire my photography but I don’t know if I’ll ever get noticed by it beyond the few favourites and comments I receive. I don’t know if I’ll ever make good friends or fall in love again. I’m very knowledgable about science but I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to get a job and pay off my student loans; no one will give me a chance. Even if I go back to university I’m concerned I may have trouble succeeding and following my dreams of doing scientific research as a career. I’m having major back problems and while I can manage on a day to day basis, it can be very uncomfortable and I don’t know if my back will ever get back to normal.

But in the meantime tumblr is giving me a platform where people do listen to me.

I have a canadian politics blog which now has over 300 followers. I’ve been trying to bring attention to issues and problems in this country which often go ignored, and finally people are listening; Americans and Canadians are reading and spreading awareness.

I also run a popular science blog with over 5000 followers. I read the tags and comments and every day I see people get excited or curious about science. Its great to be able to have such a platform to share one of my greatest passions to the world.

And that tumblr post that went viral about women in STEM gave the women of tumblr interested in STEM a safe place to show their support for each other in the face of discrimination, sexism and discouragement in the sciences. I have literally seen hundreds of tags and comments on how happy that post made them feel. People cried. Others became more determined to follow their dreams, and for a few it convinced them to pursue science as a career.

I don’t know where my life is going, but in the mean time tumblr is at least allowing me to do some good and bring issues I care about to an audience that appreciates them. :’)

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