Advanced hindsight

Mini-column ‘Alison in Wonderland’, published in the Observant, Maastricht

My favourite academic this week is Dan Ariely, an Israeli-American professor of Behavioural Economics. He gave people a series of simple maths problems and said he would pay a dollar per correct answer. The result? People cheat more if they see someone else cheating whom they identify with. And they cheat twice as much when rewarded with a token that they can later trade for cash. Consider this in view of the financial crisis: people act most immorally when members of their in-group are doing so, and when they are removed from the actual money; say, when a dollar is called a derivative. Not surprisingly, Ariely is also one of the founding members of the parody-like ‘Center for Advanced Hindsight’ at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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