[Paleopsych] Meme 046: Liberals and Conservatives in Practice
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Mon Oct 24 00:44:12 UTC 2005
Meme 046: Liberals and Conservatives in Practice
Unconventional Wisdom column
By Richard Morin, morinr at washpost.com
Forget what you've heard about bleeding heart liberals or compassionate
conservatives. When it comes to trusting others and acting for the common good,
neither political party or ideology has a corner on generosity.
That's what Jeff Milyo of the University of Missouri and his two co-authors
found in a survey of college students, using two experimental "games" that are
frequently used by economists and political scientists to test altruism and
trust. The researchers also discovered that political liberals may talk the
compassionate talk but don't walk the walk, at least any more than
conservatives do. Self-described liberals were more likely to support increased
public spending and redistributive programs. But when asked to put their faith
in others or contribute money to the larger good, lefties were no more
munificent or trusting than right-thinkers.
"Some would argue that liberals are indeed generous, albeit with others'
money," the researchers noted wryly in a just-published working paper
provocatively titled "Do Liberals Play Nice?"
Milyo and his co-authors, Lisa Anderson and Jennifer Mellor of the College of
William & Mary, surveyed a total of 196 William and Mary students to determine,
among other things, which political party they supported and how politically
liberal or conservative they were. Then the researchers instructed the students
to play the two games.
In the "trust game," test subjects were paired up, and one person from each
pair was given $10. This person could keep all the money, send only a portion
of it to his or her partner, or send it all. Any amount that was sent was
tripled -- an incentive to pass on the money. Then the second person could pass
all, some or none of the money back. (The game was played repeatedly, and after
the experiment was over, the actual dollar winnings from one of the rounds,
chosen at random, were distributed to the pair. That kept the players trying
hard each time to maximize their returns while keeping down the cost of the
experiment, Milyo said.)
So what has this got to do with trusting others? "The payoff was the greatest
if players trusted each other to repeatedly send along the full amount," Milyo
The second game was called the "public goods experiment." The students were
divided into teams of four. Each individual was given $10. Again, they could
keep all or any portion of the money and contribute the rest to a pot that
would be divided equally among all the players at the end of the game, whether
or not they contributed anything to the pot. As an incentive for the
participants to donate more to the group fund, the researchers upped the ante
and increased the pot by 25 percent, meaning the four players would each earn
more if they gave the full amount to the group fund than if they took the
money. The game was repeated multiple times, and once again one play was chosen
as the payoff round.
What did they find? "Bottom line: There was absolutely no difference in either
game between levels of trust or desire to put money into the public account
between self-described liberals or conservatives, or whether you lean
Republican [or] lean toward the Democratic Party," Milyo said.
James Carville, Ann Coulter and other fire-breathing political partisans should
take heed . "Partisans tend to explain differences in policy and partisanship
as reflecting character flaws of their opponents: Republicans are mean-spirited
while Democrats lack intelligence," Milyo said. "These results suggest that
both groups really behave alike and something other than character explains
these [partisan or ideological] differences."
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