If there is one moral principle that almost all cultures and religions can agree upon, it must be the idea that “you should never impose on others what you would not choose for yourself.” The phrase “the golden rule” now refers to this.
But, especially when there are financial repercussions for their choices, do people in contemporary societies actually adhere to this principle’s teachings? With the help of a straightforward game of haggling, our research brought this query into the lab in an attempt to provide an explanation.
We asked 300 people to participate in a series of decisions regarding how to divide a set sum of money between themselves and another anonymous participant in the room in the lab at the Centre for Experimental Economics at the University of York. Participants would have to divide a certain amount of money between themselves and another participant, with one of the two choosing how much money each of them should receive. After that, a third party who received this information made the offer to the participant.
Could CCTV help
Each participant could offer their partner any sum, in whole pounds, ranging from zero to the full amount. If the partner accepted the proposal, they both got the cash. However, if the other party rejected the offer (because they believed it was insufficient), the negotiation would break down, meaning neither party would have gained anything from this round of the game.
We aim to make sure millions of people have access to scientific knowledge. Each participant would alternate between playing both the proposer—who makes the offers—and the responder—who must accept or reject the offers. This raised the possibility that one responder would have to reject the same proposal they made when they played the proposer.
The responses people would have when acting as the responder and being presented with the same proposal as themselves piqued our interest. If someone is following the golden rule, they shouldn’t have any issues accepting proposals that are on par with the ones they made. In fact, we discovered that the majority of people behave in a way that follows the golden rule; roughly 93% of people would accept offers that were on par with what they had previously suggested to others.
Being watched by CCTV Cameras
The adage “one good deed deserves another” seemed to hold true in our experiment. When compared to those who decided to disregard the golden rule, those who chose to do so gained more from the negotiations.
Although the figure of 93% suggests that most people followed the golden rule, which is encouraging, we discovered that when people knew their opponents were not watching them, the percentage of people who adhered to the rule dropped by almost 20%, and only 73% of participants did so.
This conclusion supports social psychology findings that people act more kindly when they are aware that they are being watched. Yes, even a poster with eyes on it has the power to influence how individuals act. And it appears that people are more likely to break moral rules when there is less likelihood of being seen.
Thinking About It
We discovered that people’s decision-making processes depend on reflection. The golden rule was more likely to be broken by those who took longer to decide how to divide the money. This may be the case because the golden rule is straightforward to implement, and a protracted decision-making process may indicate a more sophisticated decision-maker who is considering a wide range of (possibly conflicting) factors.
While splitting those coins, why not keep a few extra for yourself? Pexels We discovered that people’s decisions also occasionally reflected their prior experience. Comparatively to those who first played the responder’s position, those who performed the proposer’s function were marginally more inclined to observe the golden rule.
We discovered that the behaviour of the golden rule was unaffected by gender, socioeconomic class, or cultural considerations, proving its universality. We also discovered that, contrary to what you might expect, the power of the moral code itself drives people’s behaviour when it comes to the golden rule rather than their desire for financial gain. The idea of unevenly splitting a sum of money while the other person is sitting right in front of you seems problematic because of the idea of “projection bias,” where people have the tendency to project their own thoughts, preferences, and behaviour onto other people.
All of this demonstrates that what is regarded as “good behaviour” depends on a variety of variables, including whether or not a person thinks they are being watched. This shows that while most people do adhere to some sort of moral code, how strictly they do so does depend on the circumstances.