May 30, 2008

The "I'll See You in Hell" Syndrome

Dennis Mangan points to a WSJ article on a new behavioral economics study in which college students in 16 cities around the world played a positive sum game in which everybody benefited if nobody freeloaded.

Not surprisingly, players in all countries chose to give up some money to punish freeloaders. The difference was in how the freeloaders reacted to being punished. In prosperous countries, the cheaters tended to respond to punishment by mending their ways. In the more uproarious countries, however, the bad guys just got mad and hit back.

Among students in the U.S., Switzerland, China and the U.K., those identified as freeloaders most often took their punishment as a spur to contribute more generously. But in Oman, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Greece and Russia, the freeloaders more often struck back, retaliating against those who punished them, even against those who had given most to everyone's benefit. It was akin to rapping the knuckles of the helping hand. ...

Among those punished, differences emerged immediately. Students in Seoul, Istanbul, Minsk in Belarus, Samara in Russia, Riyadh in Saudi Arabia, Athens, and Muscat in Oman were most likely to take revenge by deducting points from other players -- and to give up a token themselves to do it.

"They didn't believe they did anything wrong," said economist Herbert Gintis at New Mexico's Santa Fe Institute. And because the spiteful freeloaders had no way of knowing who had punished them, they often took out their ire on those who helped others most, suspecting they must be to blame.

Such a readiness to retaliate, researchers said, reflected relatively lower levels of trust, civic cooperation and the rule of law as measured by social scientists in the World Values Survey, which periodically assesses basic values and beliefs in more than 80 societies. In countries with democratic market economies, peer pressure goaded people to cooperate. Among authoritarian societies or those dominated more by ties of kinship, freeloaders instead lashed out at those who censured them, the researchers found.

"The question is why?" said Harvard political economist Richard Zeckhauser.

This is not a big surprise. The Swiss, for example, have been playing positive sum games among themselves for centuries -- If we all, no matter what language we speak, get together and defend our country from invaders, we can all live in peace and prosperity.

In contrast, lots of people around the world, like Jared Diamond's pal in New Guinea who got 30 people killed in order to avenge his uncle's death, seem to enjoy negative sum games -- what I call the "I'll See You in Hell" Syndrome after what movie villains say when, finally thwarted by the good guy, they start the self-destruct timer on their volcano lair.

Really, the only unexpected result here is Seoul. This may be related to a strain of knuckleheadedness visible among the young in South Korea, who engage in possibly the world's largest and certainly best organized riots. The multitudinous South Korean riot police, dressed in Orc-like uniforms, don't attempt to prevent riots like other countries' wussy riot police -- their job, instead, is to go out and do battle with the rioters. And a good time is had by all.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

24 comments:

testing99 said...

I think it's more complex than just those factors Steve.

There is also "punishment" or retaliation for reneging on a "deal." It's just as likely that the South Koreans, and perhaps the Greeks, culturally want to punish/retaliate people for reneging on the deal. To keep the next deal alive.

That's the logic behind societies where the State is weak and cannot punish those who break deals. If there's no come-back, why not break a deal when convenient?

Reno said...

But which is cause and which is effect? Are people in some countries more cooperative because they have more productive economies, or do they have more productive economies because the people are more cooperative?

Bill said...

I have to admit that these games would probably annoy me enough that I'd be tempted to take it out on the do-gooders.

Could it be that these games are more of a test of gullibility than cooperation? And what is cooperation besides willingness to go along with what some uncooperative guy tells you to do?

Since I was a kid, I've always been suspicious of "cooperative endeavors" because they are always directed by someone who is not expected to cooperate. My philosophy at this point is that I'll cooperate if I feel like it. I don't care if I get a cookie at the end of it all anyhow -- I'll find my own damn cookie if I have to.

And yes, riots are fun. I was in the middle of WTO 1999. Tear gas is kind of spicy, like jalapenos.

simon newman said...

I agree the Seoul result is interesting. It seems that South Koreans are in some ways much more aggressive than other NE Asians, possibly an evolved meme that defends against Chinese & Japanese domination.

I know I got great pleasure from giving an obnoxious Ebay seller a negative rating, even knowing he'd retaliate.

R J said...

Unfortunately the Riot Porn website, well known to Mr. Sailer and to the latter's faithful readers, doesn't seem to have been updated since mid-2007 (with some admittedly impressive photos from Rostock, a former industrial powerhouse of the old East Germany). Have rioters just stopped rioting since mid-2007, one wonders, or is some other website covering subsequent memorable examples of street warfare?

bjdouble said...

Koreans are the Italians of Asia. Big drinkers, family is important, very romantic. Remember that North Koreans are Korean too.

The riot police in Korea is usually made up of former rioters. Everybody gets drafted, so punishment for being a rioter is becoming a riot policeman. It's like a reunion.

rightsaidfred said...

This reminds me of my Air Force uncle who ran supply units around the world. He said in Turkey, if he found out a local was stealing, and they learned he was on to them, they would start stealing even more.

RobertHume said...

Who are in these tests? Are they representative of the society? Are they economics students, for example?

How about the sample size?

Were Mexico and Israel in the sample?

Maybe I should read the original, but I'm lazy.

Anonymous said...

We have a saying in Greece: "Noone is a surest enemy than the person you helped"

Helping someone is practically an invitation to be attacked or taken advantage of in the future.

The reason I think is that it signals gullibility and/or subordinate dominance status.

josh said...

I like when S Koreans protest they always wear those cool head bands.It makes them look all martial artsy and stuff! They DO protest a lot. I also heard of a guy who played a computer game of some sort for so long...he died. He played for several days straight,( I dont know how or if he went to the bathroom...hmmm,maybe thats what the headbands are for?? Eeew!)and app. so abused his system he up and died! Its curious why some smaller countries that adopt communism get really rabidly communist,like a North Korea or an Albania.I dont suppose Myanmar dudes woiuld do to well at this game!

Anonymous said...

I remember reading something about South Koreans and riots.

The claim was that nobody in South Korea gets all that upset when police bash rioters over the head, and it's not because the people in general are hostile to the rioters and want to see them clobbered (which is what such sentiments might mean in America), it's that the Koreans are basically just a really tough people, and they don't consider a little head-bashing to be such a big deal.

Now whether this is true or not I have no direct knowledge, but it's certainly an interesting claim.

H. said...

Having spent over four years in South Korea teaching English, the inclusion of Seoul participants among the most spiteful and least cooperative does not surprise me. SK owes its economic position to US protection and influence, from which it slowly became a technologically developed country--but it's primitive socially. Embezzlement is common from language institutes to chaebol, for one thing. Koreans are very xenophobic and insecure about their country, for all their chest-beating nationalism. They are not really capable of the high levels of cooperation and honesty required of a positive sum game.

beowulf said...

Hmm, if we're going to let in a flood new legal immigrants every year anyway(to say nothing of illegals), perhaps Uncle Sam should give preference to applicants from high trust societies over those from low trust ones.

Anonymous said...

I participated in an exercise like this back in college, perhaps the same one. Our teacher wanted to see if there would be a sex difference and there sure was. In ours, and it's been a long time so I don't remember much, we weren't allowed to say much if anything at all. It was patently obvious to us women, without a word being said, that we would each give our due and trust that the others would do likewise; the game for us ended extremely quickly and so we watched the men. The men acted like they were playing "Battleship". When it was over, they were genuinely baffled that we had not just assumed everyone would do the right thing, but were correct in that assumption. And vice-versa, we laughed at them as none ended up doing as well as the women.

RobertHume said...

Anonymous said:
"We have a saying in Greece: "Noone is a surest enemy than the person you helped"

Helping someone is practically an invitation to be attacked or taken advantage of in the future.

The reason I think is that it signals gullibility and/or subordinate dominance status."

So have Greeks never heard of tit for tat? Many studies have shown that that is the optimum strategy if folks will follow it.

You cooperate first, and keep cooperating as long as others do. You retaliate if that retaliate.

The "Greek" way may seem realistic, but it's a loser's strategy.

peon said...

We need to re-brand morality as game theory, it just might sell. Example usage: guy cuts you off in traffic or some such thing, you offer in lieu of profanity "I disparage your suboptimal game theory!"

Oh, and fascinating article, I'm happy to see this sort of stuff out there.

KlaosOldanburg said...

i am reminded of machiavelli's observation about favors and resentment.

the koreans have been militarily occupied by us for how long now? might have an effect on trust and cooperation. even if i understood the need to have foreign soldiers around for protection, i think it would lower my trust in the government for the de facto military (or a large portion of it) to be so different "culturally." i might at times think that it would be best to just fight and be done with it.

if you find any more riot porn like sites, please share them. the best i've found is a youtube channel:
http://www.youtube.com/user/nocommenttv

lots of riot videos. a while back they had one from georgia of the army using what appeared to be that sonic weapon the pentagon has been rumored to be developing.

steve wood said...

But which is cause and which is effect? Are people in some countries more cooperative because they have more productive economies, or do they have more productive economies because the people are more cooperative?

This question could be answered fairly well by looking at history. That is, have the cooperative traits developed with time, as the society became more prosperous, or has the society always been cooperative? The Swiss seem to fall into the latter category, but it's such a small country that it could be an anomaly. What about the UK? That's a big place; my sense is that "cooperation," in the form of fair play, has always been an esteemed quality among the Brits, but perhaps there is historical evidence one way or the other.

Another way to get at the question would be to correlate historical prosperity with social cooperation to see if societies that have been wealthy for many centuries are more cooperative. Certainly England and Switzerland have been relatively rich, by world standards, for a long, long time, but China ...? On the other hand, all of the non-cooperative countries listed here are historically relatively poor.

Hmm, if we're going to let in a flood new legal immigrants every year anyway(to say nothing of illegals), perhaps Uncle Sam should give preference to applicants from high trust societies over those from low trust ones

Uh huh. The problem is that few people from the UK and Switzerland are beating down our doors to get in. Why should they? Those are already quite OK places to live. That leaves us with China, whence we are already admitting quite a few immigrants. Of course, we can always let in more. Alas, on this basis, we would have to keep out the Koreans, and I pretty much like all the Korean-Americans I know.

Markku said...

We have a saying in Greece: "Noone is a surest enemy than the person you helped"

Helping someone is practically an invitation to be attacked or taken advantage of in the future.

The reason I think is that it signals gullibility and/or subordinate dominance status.


That's disgusting. I'm not sure whether I should believe you.

If that is true, however, I can only say it may be best to let Northern Mediterranean countries have their Mediterranean Union with the Arabs and Turkey - and then kick the whole bunch out of the EU.

Markku said...

Having spent over four years in South Korea teaching English, the inclusion of Seoul participants among the most spiteful and least cooperative does not surprise me. SK owes its economic position to US protection and influence, from which it slowly became a technologically developed country--but it's primitive socially. Embezzlement is common from language institutes to chaebol, for one thing. Koreans are very xenophobic and insecure about their country, for all their chest-beating nationalism. They are not really capable of the high levels of cooperation and honesty required of a positive sum game.

Nonsense. If the Koreans were not at all capable of playing positive sum games, no amount of US military protection would ever enable them to build succesful business.

So, what kind of "US influence" are you talking about?

David said...

Uncle Sam should give preference to applicants from high trust societies over those from low trust ones.

But just how would that help the goal of looting America and destroying its founding stock?

The Wobbly Guy said...

Here's a far out thought - the South Koreans students behave differently from the others because they differ in one social aspect: they play too much online.

Although some people will argue that online gaming in MMORPGs foster cooperation, it could also be possible that the endemic gaming of SK children has created a generation of myopic self-centered youths who are only willing to make the shortest and least painful sacrifices to get to their objective, and long term planning and more importantly, trust, is nothing but a detriment to getting to that next character level or shiny artifact.

The above really doesn't help the case for building a positive sum game mindset.

Of course, this is simply my very admittedly whacked out hypothesis...

Eric said...

I had a Korean girlfriend for years. She wasn't really interested in staying in the US, so I spent a lot of time associating with Korean nationals. That's when I found you can laugh and shake your head at the same time.

The statement about Koreans being the Italians of Asia is dead on. These people have tempers like you wouldn't believe. They have the concept of "face" like the Chinese, but whereas a Chinese person will wait for the right moment to avenge a loss of face, with Koreans it's immediate and probably violent.

My 98 pound girlfriend was unable to control her temper to the point she was prepared to get into physical altercations with people twice her size. And nobody from the community thought it was in any way out of the ordinary.

And they consider laws in general and taxes in particular fully optional. There's a reason Korean immigrants tend to run liquor stores and other small, cash businesses.

Felix said...

When I first came across this kind of game, I tried it on my friends. They all adopted a reasonably cooperative approach (the women slightly more than the men).

The big exception were two men - one a mathematician and the other an analytical philosopher. They proceeded on the model that, rationally, people shouldn't spend resources punishing the stingy.

So perhaps too much theoretical analysis can also affect a genuinely cooperative approach.