Altruism has become quite a big topic in economics lately. Many psychological and economics studies have concluded that altruistic behaviours are innate (Tankersley, Stowe, and Huettel (2007) claim that there are isolated brain centers involved in altruism. But, to what extent is this true?
There have been some experiments in which depending on the price of the good that is “gifted” there is a difference in altruistic behaviours ( Andreoni and Vesterlund (2001)). So this brings up the following question, could it be that our interactions/ relationships affect our altruistic behaviours? At first this conclusion may seem too extreme, however I believe there is some evidence to support this.
It could be that we are biologically wired to be altruistic, hence we see in many repeated game experiments that individuals often times show altruistic behaviours. Yet under an experiment, individuals are aware that they are being observed so this must influence their behaviour in some way. Many people care about appearances so it would make sense for people to be more altruistic in experiments where they know they´re being observed. This could represent a degree of bias when presenting the results.
Yet there is another alternative, a study carried out in Stanford found that toddlers that interacted with the researchers previously to the experiment, were three times more likely to show altruistic behaviors. What does this mean? That toodlers were not necessarily aware they were being observed in the experiment but they did have an interaction with the researchers and this unlocked their altruistic behaviours.
These outcomes are replicated in economics. As economists we like to say that individuals arrive at an equilibrium because of the law of demand and supply. But could it be that economic behaviours are also driven by relationships and interactions? Often times individual motives are driven by their relationships, which means that altruism often times plays a role in the decision making process. So this would mean that individual interactions are the ones that are driving the equilibrium output. This considers not just everyday interactions, it goes further, it implies that feelings such as empathy play a fundamental role when it comes to decision making.
Could it be that individuals take into account not just prices and information but also their relationship with the person providing such information. This means we are not necessarily wired to be altruistic or wired to act rationally, it means that feelings and relationships impact how we react to such stimuli, thus impacting equilibrium results.
I´d like to know your thoughts on this since I know altruistic behaviours come hand in hand with feelings of justice and moral. I think its very interesting how these topics are starting to become embedded within new economic approaches.
CAREY, B. (2014). Stanford psychologists show that altruism is not simply innate. [online] Stanford University. Available at: https://news.stanford.edu/news/2014/december/altruism-triggers-innate-121814.html [Accessed 20 Feb. 2018].
Andreoni, J., T. Harbaugh, W. and Vesterlund, L. (2007). Altruism in Experiments. [online] Available at: http://econweb.ucsd.edu/~jandreon/Publications/PalgraveAltruism.pdf [Accessed 20 Feb. 2018].