Picking Your Crew

Let’s say your about to spend a year on a desert island, in a small group.  You can pick one of two groups.  But first I’m going to let you run an experiment on each of the two groups to help you decide.

I might suggest that a good experiment would be to have folks in each group play a few rounds of the classic prisoner’s dilemma.  That would help you see which group tends to be more cooperative, and in the perverse language of these things that group would also be less economically rational – e.g. self interested.

But what if there isn’t any time to run the experiment.  Is there a question you could ask people?  A question that signals a tendency to collaborate.  Well according to this little experiment, run on Mechanical Turk workers, there is a good question.  Ask them if they believe in God.

Figure 1

That chart shows four groups.  The two bars on the left, those who believe in God, were more cooperative then those who don’t.

In addition they reproduced a classic experiment that shows, unsurprisingly, that you can prime players before the game in ways that will make them more cooperative during the game.  In this case the priming was done by “exposure to religious words and phrases.”   So, once you get to the island you might want to do some that.

My take on much of the debate about faith is about it’s lack of rationality, or it’s superstitious nature.  But it rare to find the question raised: “What is good for.”  or “What immediate purpose do it serve.”  or “How efficacious is it?”   The above is one example of possible answers.   It seems to me that before you tell people to drop a practice it might be good to know what’s in it for them.

That said, I worry.  I worry, that employers rapidly will learn to pull these levers in despicable ways. See also.

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