See Inside December 2006/January 2007

Switching off the Inner Scrooge

Self-serving impulses and moral considerations often act as two opposing forces that govern our everyday behavior. But how does the brain decide which one wins?

As a step toward answering that question, Ernst Fehr of the University of Zurich and his colleagues watched as 52 volunteers played the ultimatum game, an anonymous exchange in which an individual decides whether to punish a partner's behavior at his or her own cost. In this version of the game, one player proposes how to divide 20 Swiss francs with the second player. If the responder accepts, the first player gets the money demanded and the responder gets the rest. But if the responder rejects a lopsided offer, neither gets anything. “In this game, players must overcome selfish impulses if they want to punish their partners for an unfair offer,” Fehr explains.

This is only a preview. Get the rest of this article now!

Select an option below:

Customer Sign In

*You must have purchased this issue or have a qualifying subscription to access this content

It has been identified that the institution you are trying to access this article from has institutional site license access to Scientific American on
Click here to access this article in its entirety through site license access.

Rights & Permissions
Share this Article:


You must sign in or register as a member to submit a comment.
Scientific American Holiday Sale

Scientific American Mind Digital

Get 6 bi-monthly digital issues
+ 1yr of archive access for just $9.99

Hurry this offer ends soon! >


Email this Article


Next Article