Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Does Thinking Quantitatively Cause Us to be More Selfish, More Unethical?

Scholars Long Wang, Chen-Bo Zhong and Keith Murnighan have conducted new research examining the link between a "calculative mindset" and selfish/unethical behavior.  They used the ultimatum game and the dictator game to conduct their studies.  These two exercises often used in business schools to teach basic principles of game theory.   They split study participants into two groups.    In the control condition, participants were primed by reading a historical account of the industrial evolution.  In the experimental condition, participants were primed by reading a tutorial about net present value analysis.   What did the scholars find?   The participants who examined the net present value tutorial acted more selfishly, and they lied more often during these games than those who read about the history of the industrial revolution.  In other words, those primed to think quantitatively tended to act more selfishly and unethically.   The scholars argue that the calculative mindset is not problematic in and of itself, but it becomes dangerous when it comes to dominate people's thinking.  They also point out that business schools often emphasize the calculative mindset a great deal.  They should question the impact of asking students to think quantitatively so often. 

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