Monday, September 5, 2011

Emotions in economic interactions

How do you get people to cooperate. By increasing utility, of course, but that is difficult to measure, obviously, and there may some components beyond rationality in emotional contexts. However, we have some interesting ways to get some neurological hints about positive and negative emotions by measuring the conductance of skin. This may help to explain why people are sometimes willing to hurt themselves in order to punish others.

Mateus Joffily, David Masclet, Charles Noussair and Marie-Claire Villeval conduct an experiment where cooperation, free-riding and punishment can happen. They measure skin conductance to reveal the intensity of emotions and let players reveal whether their emotions are positive or negative. Cooperation and punishment of free-riding elicit positive emotions, the latter indicating that emotions can override self-interest. That is also because punishment relieves some of the negative emotions from observing free-riding. And one does not like being punished, which lends one to cooperate more in the future. Finally, people like being in a set-up where sanctions are possible, in particular because it allows a virtuous circle of emotions that reinforce each other and lead to more cooperation.

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