February 24, 2019 3 Comments

cool paper in 3 minutes (1)

Human children but not chimpanzees make irrational decisions driven by social comparison

Esther Herrmann, Lou M. Haux, Henriette Zeidler and Jan M. Engelmann January 2019  https://doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2018.2228

The paper asks if Social Comparison can motivate primates to make stupid value-based choices. (see Test condition below).

Three things are particularly cool about the paper: (1) Authors set social comparative and absolute personal gain against each other very nicely; (2) They compare chimps, young (5-6yr) and older (9-10yr) children; (3) Very careful controls are used.

Schematic representation of the set-up and the apparatus in the child and chimpanzee experiments
Hypothesis: the participant (here, the boy) is probably thinking: “If I choose left, I will be worse off (2<3) but the girl will be much worse off (1<<6).” Note that the confederate is passive and the participant chooses for both.

Results are amazing (see Figure below). Young children and chimps prefer the option that benefits themselves most (right-side tray in the figure above). Older children are much more likely to choose the option that gives them a social comparative advantage (left tray). They are indifferent (50-50) when choosing between the two trays.

Average choice of payoff-maximizing option (3–6) in test condition (where participants made a choice between a 2–1 and a 3–6 payoff distribution) and control conditions (choice between a 2–5 and 3–6 payoff distribution) for chimpanzees, younger children and older children. Error bars represent standard error.

Their controls show that all three groups are capable of making the obvious choice if it does not involve social comparison. Plus, they also show that older children are not seeking fairness (i.e., equal pay through mixing two types of reward).
It is a great paper !


  • Soheil

    Social comparison motivates us to make a stupid choice, and this implication is obvious based on your post and my previous comment was bulshit 😄


  • Soheil

    If you include another breif paragraph about the implication or what the research means for our everyday lives, it would be great.


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