Are students nicer than pornographers and domain traders?

Maybe not.  In a new paper, “Who’s Naughty? Who’s Nice? Experiments on Whether Pro-Social Workers are Selected Out of Cutthroat Business Environments,” Mitchell Hoffman and John Morgan report:

Levitt and List (2007) conjecture that selection pressures among business people will reduce or eliminate pro-social choices. While recent work comparing students with various adult populations often fails to find that adults are less pro-social, this evidence is not necessarily at odds with the selection hypothesis, which may be most relevant for behavior in cutthroat competitive industries. To examine the selection hypothesis, we compare students with two adult populations deliberately selected from two cutthroat internet industries — domain trading and adult entertainment (pornography). Across a range of indicators, business people in these industries are more pro-social than students: they are more altruistic, trusting, trustworthy, and lying averse. They also respond differently to shame-based incentives. We offer a theory of reverse selection that can rationalize these findings.

Hat tip goes to Kevin Lewis.

Comments

I thought internet-scale pornography was a Californian niche industry. The kind of environment where trust, sense-of-community and, well togetherness, matters a lot.

Nonrepresentative samples; study inconclusive by design.

Poorly thought out. Why would one assume students aren't competitive? I didn't learn anything but hopefully these people did.

In fact, students, depending on the school, may be in a *more* cutthroat environment. Is making pornography actually a "cut-throat" business?

Both industries are notorious for their questionable ethics and have, as a consequence, suffered from scandal and relentless negative press, highlighting issues ranging from the exploitation of minors to the theft of intellectual property.[citation needed]

Both industries exist in a gray area where the law allows actions which most people find distasteful. That's not the same thing as having questionable ethics.

Both industries feature ... relatively undifferentiated products

Just wrong. Domain squatting only works because the product is highly differentiable. And a glance through a porn video catalog will tell you that there is enormous market segmentation - everything in the catalog is there because it sells, but most people wouldn't be interested in more than a small fraction of what's available. The existence of porn "stars" is more evidence against the idea that porn is "relatively undifferentiated".

The Kevin Lewis link doesn't appear to lead to the paper.

The link is at the top, labeled "a new paper".

The link between porn purveyance and altruism is clear enough.

Markets cultivate more social behavior. Who didn't know that?

Education system mostly promotes meritocracy (even in project work since different project teams compete on their own merits) whereas business is probably more social and people rely on social networks/ capital to get the next deal.

I had to laugh when I read through the first few pages of the paper. The authors of the paper tried to phrase it in such a way that it might have gone over the heads of most people but, basically, what they're saying is that they went to porn conventions to conduct their research.

Gotta love social science:

Levitt & List > In financial markets, for instance, the stakes are large, actors are highly anonymous, and little concern seems to exist about future analysis of one’s behavior. Individuals with strong social preferences are likely to self-select away from these markets, instead hiring agents who lack such preferences to handle their financial dealings.

In financial markets, little concern seems to exist about future analysis of one's behavior? Really? Are financial markets not built on reputation and brutal performance benchmarks?

And what are individuals with strong social preferences? What is a weak social preference for an individual, and how do we distinguish them? I suppose we are also talking about individuals who lack social preferences.

I'm sure there are "answers" to my questions, and I'd love to hear them and their justifications. But this smells like scientism moreso than science.

"In financial markets, little concern seems to exist about future analysis of one’s behavior? Really? Are financial markets not built on reputation and brutal performance benchmarks?"

I agree that generally. But there are aspects of financial markets where this is true. For example trading on electronic exchanges is anonymized, so reputation doesn't really matter. This is in contrast to more traditional over-the-counter markets like illiquid corporate bonds which are traded over the phone by a handful of major dealers. There, being an a-hole will get you blackballed pretty quickly.

> For example trading on electronic exchanges is anonymized, so reputation doesn’t really matter.

This is quite true, in a sense. When all you want is a counterparty, you really don't care about his reputation, just what he trades to you. But the reputation of the exchange and any intermediaries between trader and exchange are paramount, and for any credit-based transaction (which are arguably the lion's share of financial marketry), it's a tautology that reputation matters.

They should have compared them against congressmen instead.

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