PSYCHOLOGY: Fair Trade or Fair Play
A distressing trend of the past few decades has been the increasing regard for quantification of behavior with the attendant corollary that developing a metric and quantitatively analyzing it are sufficient for understanding how humans behave. Within the realm of social exchanges, monetization, whether of time or productivity or reward, is readily achieved, and open markets soon establish prices for everything and anything. But is this the whole story?
Heyman and Ariely describe a trio of experiments, loosely based on Tom Sawyer and his whitewashing escapade, that reveal behavior in a social versus a monetary market. Small- or medium-sized payments of money or candy, or no payment at all, were used as incentives for students to perform a set of tasks designed to gauge the extent of effort expended. As expected, effort increased with the amount of money paid. In contrast, effort was relatively insensitive to the amount of candy offered, but explicitly mentioning the prices of the small and medium amounts of candy resulted in expended effort that did then vary with price. The authors suggest that social and monetary markets evoke different behaviors and may rely on dissimilar motivations, with the tacit considerations of altruism and reputation in the former, and the impersonal aspects of quotidian labor in the other. -- GJC
Psychol. Sci., in press.