Selfish people act even more selfishly under pressure: Study
Washington: A new study has revealed that selfish people are likely to act more selfishly than usual, while prosocial people behave even more prosocially, under time pressure new study reveals.
The results suggest that when people don't have much time to make a decision, they go with what they have done in similar situations, said study author Ian Krajbich.
"People start off with a bias of whether it is best to be selfish or pro-social. If they are rushed, they'll tend to go with that bias, but when people have more time to decide, they are more likely to go against their bias as they evaluate the options in front of them," he said.
Krajbich and Fadong Chen conducted the study which involved 102 college students from the United States and Germany who played 200 rounds of a game that is often used in psychology and economics experiments. In each round, played on a computer, the participants chose between two ways of splitting up a real sum of money. Both choices favoured the person playing the game, but one choice shared more of the money with the unseen partner.
The participants were supposed to decide whether to give up some of their own money to increase the other person's payoff and reduce the inequality between them.
The decision scenarios were very different. In some cases, the participants would have to give up only, say, USD 1 to increase their partner's payoff by USD 10. In others, they might have to give up USD 1 to give their partner an extra USD 1. And in other cases, they would have to make a large sacrifice - for example, give up USD 10 to give their partner an extra USD 3.
Researchers said that the key to this study is that participants didn't always have the same amount of time to decide.
In some cases, participants had to decide within two seconds how they would share their money as opposed to other cases when they were forced to wait at least 10 seconds before deciding. And in additional scenarios, they were free to choose at their own pace, which was usually more than two seconds but less than 10.
The researchers used a model of the normal decisions to predict how a participant's decisions would change under time pressure and time delay.
"We found that time pressure tends to magnify the predisposition that people already have, whether it is to be selfish or pro-social," Krajbich said.
The situation was different when participants were forced to wait 10 seconds before deciding.
"People may still approach decisions with the expectation that they will act selfishly or pro-socially, depending on their predisposition. But now they have time to consider the numbers and can think of reasons to go against their bias," he added.
The results may help explain why some previous studies found that time pressure makes people more selfish, while others found that it makes people more pro-social.
The study appeared in the Journal of Nature Communications.