Monday, March 14, 2011


Help me out here. Think of a situation where you are completely anonymously interacting with another person. You have the option to behave fairly towards them, or to screw them over for your own gain.

In one type of situation, where the other person won't find out that you screwed them over, you are more likely to do so. In another situation, where the outcome is exactly the same but the other person will find out, you are more likely to behave fairly. (Think about if you and someone else won a prize and you have to give them their half of the money. You might act differently if they know how much you won.)

Why is that? This is a completely anonymous situation, so you don't have to worry about vengeance, and no one but yourself can judge you for your decision. But of course the decision is the same in both cases, so your own self-judgment can't be the reason.

The obvious explanation is that you don't want to make other people feel as if they're being screwed over. But somehow I can't make myself believe that that's all that's going on. That doesn't feel like what is going on, if I imagine myself in that position.

I mean, if that were the reason, people should interfere with random strangers screwing people over. We should tip for other people when we see them eating and running. We definitely don't.

Ok, maybe this is it. We don't like feeling responsible for other people's hurt feelings. How does that sound? Guilt applies both to material outcomes and emotional outcomes.

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