Sunday, August 07, 2016

Why Money, Power and Glory Are Bad Motivators

If all we want is money, power, and glory, the world becomes a sad place. Academic research provides solid evidence that the pursuit of these three things makes collaboration among humans miserable.

For instance, it appears that students of management and economics, who make the pursuit of money and power their life's goal, are more greedy even before they start their studies, and that they become even more so over the course of their education.  In behavioral research, first year economics students have been shown to be more likely to free-ride in public goods games: In one experiment, students could deposit money into a public account where it was multiplied and distributed to all participants, or keep their money in a private account, and still participate in the distribution of the public pool.  First year graduate students in economics kept eighty percent of the money for themselves, and only put twenty percent into the public pool, compared to all other participants in the game who put fifty percent of their money into the public pool. In a follow-up survey the researchers asked the students about their understanding of fairness. While for all other students the concept of fairness was an important one, a large part of the economics students either refused to answer this question or were unable to give an understandable answer.
When the students got the opportunity to play the prisoner’s dilemma game, which rewards participants for cheating, economics majors were almost twice as like to cheat on their teammates as students with other majors.

The researchers also explored if economics students became even more selfish over the course of their studies. This seems indeed to be the case, documented by having the students play the prisoner’s dilemma game over extended periods of time. Normally participants become more collaborative over time, cheating less on their teammates. This effect of increasing collaboration over time was conspicuously absent for the economics students. In an experiment comparing economics students and students from other majors in the first and second years, economists were significantly less fair, and more selfish than their peers, and this effect became stronger in the second year. It seems that economists start out more selfish than others, and that their selfish behavior gets reinforced over time in daily interaction with other economists.

The researchers also found that economics professors are much more stingy as charitable givers than professors in other disciplines.  In a survey answered by 576 academics, there were almost ten times as many non-givers among the economics professors than in all other disciplines. In another natural experiment, Bruno S. Frey, a professor of economics at the university of Zurich, investigated the charitable behavior of 28,586 students at the university of Zurich. Each semester students could decide if they wanted to contribute a small amount of money towards a fund for needy students. Frey and his colleague found that in particular students of business economics were significantly less generous than students from other majors, and this effect stayed over the entire duration of their studies.  Frey even found that the effect goes back to high school, as students from high schools with emphasis on business economics were stingier than their peers. The late Stanford professor Hal Leavitt put it succinctly, stating that business education transforms students into “critters with lopsided brains, icy hearts, and shrunken souls.”

Power corrupts – behavioral economists have demonstrated this folk wisdom in a series of ingenious experiments. In a research project in Boston and New York, researchers manipulated the feeling of power of study participants by inviting them to stand in either an impressive posture, or in a more humble and modest way. They then gave the participants the opportunity to cheat on them by “accidentally” overpaying them after the “official” experiment was over. People in the humble posture were more than twice as likely to return the overpayment than people standing in the power position. In a second experiment, the feeling of power was manipulated by either seating participants at a wide and expansive desk, or giving them a small table and chair. When study participants got an opportunity to grade their own tests, the likelihood of cheating by correcting their own answers was again more than twice as high for participants experiencing the “feeling of power” sitting at the wide and expansive desk. In two further experiments the researchers compared the driving behavior of car drivers with the size of their car. In a car simulator, if participants got a large car seat, they drove more recklessly than when sitting on a small and cramped car seat. In the final experiment the researchers counted the instances of double parking in New York, which is illegal, and encumbers other traffic participants. They found that the larger the car, the more likely it was that drivers were willing to double park on the streets of New York.

In addition, researchers also found that people of higher social classes, having more power and glory, behaved less ethical. For example, when driving on the streets, drivers of upper-class cars were more willing to cut off other vehicles on a busy four-way intersection, and to cut off pedestrians at a crosswalk.  In further studies, participants were asked about their socioeconomic status, as well as their willingness to lie to job applications to entice them to accept a job. It turned out that people with higher socioeconomic status and thus more power were more willing to cheat and to lie. In another experiment, a feeling of power was established through psychological manipulation, by asking participants to compare themselves against people with the least money, least education, and least respected jobs. This put them in a mindset of power, which made them more willing to behave unethical by taking away more candy which would otherwise have gone to small children.

More powerful people are also more willing to cheat on their spouses. Conducting a survey with 1561 participants, researchers found that the higher the socioeconomic status of a person was, the higher was both their willingness to cheat on their partner and their actual infidelity. This was independent of gender; more powerful women were as willing to cheat as more powerful men. In another project, the same researchers found that power increased hypocrisy. The powerful were stricter with others’ moral transgressions, while at the same time being more willing to misbehave themselves. The feeling of power was again induced by priming participants to recall experiences of low or high power. More powerful participants were quick in condemning the cheating of others, while cheating more themselves when playing lottery games. It seems that a position of power goes along with a sense of entitlement.

Glory also has a dark side, as famous people have been shown to be more narcissistic than ordinary people. In a research project the degree of narcissism of celebrities was measured and compared against the narcissism scores of regular people. While narcissism also has some good aspects – for example it seems that narcissistic people are less depressed – narcissists crave attention, are overconfident, and frequently lack empathy. For this project, the researchers recruited 200 actors, comedians, musicians, and reality television personalities, to fill out a survey. The celebrities had participated in a national radio show that gives advice about drugs, sex, and relationships. They had been invited to this show because they all appeared frequently in the entertainment media and because of their ability to draw an audience.  These celebrities were compared against a similarly sized sample of MBA students. The survey that was used breaks narcissism down into the seven sub-properties authority, exhibitionism, superiority, entitlement, exploitativeness, self-sufficiency, and vanity. Different from the normal population, where men are more narcissistic than women, female celebrities were even more narcissistic than men. In particular, female celebrities excelled in exhibitionism, superiority, and vanity. Among the different types of celebrities, reality television personalities were the most narcissistic, while musicians were the least narcissistic. The researchers also wanted to know if naturally narcissistic people were drawn to the entertainment industry, or if long years in the entertainment industry made less narcissistic participants more narcissistic. It Their conclusion was that the length of being in the entertainment industry has no influence on the degree of narcissism; more narcissistic people choose to work in entertainment to start with.
On a side note, the researchers also compared the average narcissism of their MBA students with the overall US population. They found that also the MBA students were more narcissistic than the rest of the population, but much less so than the celebrities.

So it seems we all should strive to be a bit less of Homo Competitivus, and more of Homo Collaborensis. However I am not sure if America is ready for it, considering that Donald Trump was nominated as the official candidate for US President, while Bernie Sanders was not?

Here are the links to the most recent versions of my two evolving books
Swarm Leadership and Homo Collaborensis:  Using Collaborative Innovation Networks to Build a Better Business through Empowered Stakeholders

Sociometrics and the Collective Mind:  Analyzing Social Networks to Manage Brands, Predict Trends, and Improve Organizational Performance

both to come out in January 2017 with Emerald.

Feedback is most welcome.

Finally thanks to Adam Grant for his excellent blog post, where he is expressing the same concerns very clearly.

1 comment:

  1. Good research findings. Power corrupts. True. I felt that the research has been done in the US. There is a good mention about how people with money and who are rich become less charitable and misbehave with power.

    Traditionally, that's how people perceive them to be. Our movies and popular culture blows up this aspect, making it deeply seated in the minds of people. Perhaps it is a bit different, when people who have come up in life genuinely after lot of hardship and know the value of good hard labor. They would not look down upon other people and treat them bad. They are humble as well.

    I would like to understand here and would like to ask the author this question - what is the connection between - collaboration for innovation (Or any general collaboration among humans )and People who are rich and who are narcissistic and misbehave.

    If there is relational motivation, trust and mind share, all kinds of people will collaborate anyway if there is a an opportunity.

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