Friday, October 23, 2015

Teamwork and the Individual

The article poses some interesting concepts to think about, given some constraints. The conclusion was extremely amusing for me because I come from a background where the kids are always in cahoots with the experimenters and the results are always nearly identical to the claim made in the article. My opinion may be a bit more biased than others due to the economic environment I witnessed in the formative years of my life.

Back to the article:
While the case of the first experiment is fairly accurate in relation to real life, I was quite surprised when the second kid pulling the rope got 3 instead of 1. The concept of fairness becomes a moot point to prove in most cases. The ones getting more only share their wealth 75% of the time. It seems to me that sometimes, the case between the interacting parties is, "I'll share so long that I am better off than most." When I was in ninth grade, seven of us had teamed up to make a project that we were sure would win us the prize. Team efforts give out greater yields than individual achievements, but the yield is barely ever shared fairly, or equally. We made an operational electric car with parts from junkyards around the city. We won the prize, but only a few of us were ever able to use that distinction. Most of the credit went to the person who seemed to perform well in front of the crowd, despite his/her lack of ability or interest in ensuring the success of the project.

I agree with the article in the rest of its points, though. My skepticism comes from personal experience, and the collaboration experiment, if done with adults, may have varied vastly depending on the participants of the experiment.

Society and the economy really does feel like a giant machine with millions of strings sticking out of it. Some pull and get little, some arrive to the scene with a cup or a bag full of marbles, while others control what comes out of the machine, because, as the article mentions, they know the ones performing the experiment, and no matter how much the rest of the kids pull the rope, these kids will always get the most marbles.


  1. I wonder if between the age of 3 (when the experiments were performed) and being a teenager one learns lessons that either encourage greater sharing or possibly the reverse. Might your cynicism be based on lessons learned during that time period? If so, what circumstances would tend to discourage sharing behavior? For example, if most of the kids grow up in reasonably well off families, will they have a different sense of sharing from other kids who grow up in poorer families?

    In class on Monday I will have us talk through various versions of doing this experiment with adults. I expect that to produce an interesting discussion.

    1. The biggest concern when taking anyone older than 3 is the increasing probability of biased but accurate reactions to this experiment because there is no way of controlling the experiences and personality of the participant. Hence, as they grow older, the children's backgrounds change and they themselves change in their behavior. I can say with certainty that even though my personal opinion is that sharing is a positive outcome and every participant should share, my skepticism comes from my own experiences on how people decide not to do that exact same thing. Following your third question, most reasonably well off families can still have a familial background that may discourage sharing, and the variables are far too many to accurately determine the outcome from older kids as opposed to children who have only begun the functioning of their mental faculties. Poorer families may surprisingly be more understanding towards sharing as they realize the concept of scarcity more so than wealthier ones.