Thursday, June 06, 2013

Of Mice and Men

Armin Falk and Nora Szech write in the 10 May issue of Science about Mice and Men, specifically about an experiment when the life of a mouse depends on the cupidity (or morality) of humans.

In our main treatments, human subjects faced the decision to either receive no money and to save the life of a mouse, or to earn money and to accept the killing of a mouse. . . subjects were explicitly informed about the consequences of their decision. They knew that their mouse was a young and healthy mouse, which in case it survived would in expectation live for about 2 years in an appropriate, enriched environment, jointly with a few other mice. For illustrative purposes, we presented to subjects the picture of a mouse on an instruction screen (fig. S1). The instructions informed subjects explicitly about the killing process, in case they decided to kill their mouse. The killing process was also shown in a short video that was presented to subjects.
The mice were excess and unsuited to the research for which they had been bred,   The results, were, of course what bunnies (also being surplus to purpose) fear
We present controlled experimental evidence on how market interaction changes how human subjects value harm and damage done to third parties. In the experiment, subjects decide between either saving the life of a mouse or receiving money. We compare individual decisions to those made in a bilateral and a multilateral market. In both markets, the willingness to kill the mouse is substantially higher than in individual decisions. Furthermore, in the multilateral market, prices for life deteriorate tremendously. In contrast, for morally neutral consumption choices, differences between institutions are small.
There is a podcast

But this informs about the cherished values of the Freds, Willard Tony, Steve Mc, the various luckwarmers (sic, Eli knows) and others of the Rabett's acquaintance.


Tom Curtis said...

Being appropriately skeptical, I note that some people's initial reluctance to take money for the life of a mouse may be based on squeamishness rather than moral principle. As such the results of the experiment need to be interpreted with caution. They certainly show that it is plausible that markets erode moral values, but it is possible that the students of Bonn University typically tend to be squeamish about taking life, but have no moral principles that extend to animals (or animal life).

In the larger context, it is noteworthy that Australia (and probably other nations) have laws against secondary boycotts - ie, restricting trade with a given person or corporation because of perceived immoral behavior by that person or corporation. That is, Australian law mandates, to some extent at least, that market behavior not maintain moral values. Consequently the overall thesis of the experiment is very plausible, and made more so by the experiment. It is, however, not proven.

Anonymous said...

I would speculate that such valuations placed on harm extend beyond mice and men to oneself.

Anonymous said...

Another point to see is if this effect comes really from market mechanisms or the generated anonymity / group effect. I would guess that it is easier to take a life when the group does so than "make the first step", at least that's what history tends to indicate.

Captcha "verymen none". Strangely appropriate.


Unknown said...

I really hope people are working hard on creating completely computer simulated animals to test substances on. I'm afraid this is not something we'll see in the near future, though...

Anonymous said...

"I really hope people are working hard on creating completely computer simulated animals to test substances on.


If drug treatment could be simulated, why would anyone simulate such in a virtual animal model? Why not go straight for the Homo jugular?

It's not exactly laser surgery...

Bernard J.

(I swear, Captcha is smarter than the spammers - "sheltered tspleens"]