March 27, 2009
Vindictive People Make Less Money

Some German researchers find that people who use more negative reciprocity in their dealings with others spend more time unemployed, have fewer friends, and are less satisfied. Don't count every reason you think others are unfair.

Vindictiveness doesn't pay. This has been demonstrated by a current study at Bonn and Maastricht Universities. According to this study, a person inclined to deal with inequity on a tit-for-tat basis tends to experience more unemployment than other people. Vindictive people also have less friends and are less satisfied with their lives. The study appears in the current edition of the Economic Journal.

We tend to live by the motto "tit for tat". We repay an invitation to dinner with a counter-invitation; when a friend helps us to move house, we help to move his furniture a few months later. On the other hand, we repay meanness in the same coin. Scientists speak here of reciprocity. A person who repays friendly actions in a like manner is said to behave with positive reciprocity, and one who avenges unfairness acts with negative reciprocity.

Positive and negative reciprocity are interdependent traits: many people incline to positive reciprocity, others more to negative; others, again, incline to both. The researchers from Bonn and Maastricht wanted to discover what influence these traits of character have on parameters such as "success" or "satisfaction with life". For this, they resorted to data from the so-called "socio-economic panel". This contains information gathered by the Deutsche Institut für Wirtschaftsforschung (German Institute for economic Research) in its annual surveys. These involve around 20,000 respondents from all over Germany and cover a diversity of topics.

Positively reciprocal people work more and make more money.

The researchers then related these data to other results of the survey, whereby they stumbled upon a number of interesting correlations: "Thus, positively reciprocal people tend on average to perform more overtime, but only when they find the remuneration fair", declares Professor Dr. Thomas Dohmen of Maastricht University. "As they are very sensitive to incentives, they also tend to earn more money".

Stay away from vindictive people. Of course, if you are one then that's hard to do.

This is in stark contrast to vindictive people. With these people, the equation "more money = more work" does not always apply. Even pay cuts are not an effective means of bringing negatively reciprocal people back into line. Ultimately the danger arises that they will take revenge – for example, by refusing to work, or by sabotage. "On the basis of these theoretical considerations it would be natural to expect that negatively reciprocal people are more likely to lose their jobs", Falk explains: "A supposition which coincides with our results. Consequently, negatively reciprocal people experience a significantly higher rate of unemployment".

I say strive to be constructive and productive. Works for me.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2009 March 27 12:58 AM  Brain Economics


Comments
James Bowery said at March 27, 2009 7:55 AM:

I say strive to be constructive and productive. Works for me.

Even better, strive to emulate the banksters that walked away with billions and defect, defect, defect -- with all alacrity, to be sure!

Who needs all that altruistic punishment baggage when you're jet-setting to the next civilization ripe for the harvest?

Vindictive SOB said at March 27, 2009 1:22 PM:

I'm often skeptical of studies like this, but from my own experience this rings true. But you know what? It's worth it ;).

RB said at March 27, 2009 1:33 PM:

James Bowery: Vindictive much? I think you may have missed the point...

Kevin said at March 27, 2009 1:48 PM:

Which way does the causation run? Does negative reciprocity lead to failure in life or does failure in life lead to negative reciprocity?

Kevin

Dr. Strangelove said at March 27, 2009 2:04 PM:

The authors of the study are using the phrase "tit-for-tat" strategy in a way that is significantly different from the way it is usually used in game theory. In game theory it is usually used to describe a strategy in prisoner's dilemma type games where there are only two possible moves: cooperate or defect. This study appears to be using a model of interaction where there are more than two possible moves. Players can confer benefit, do nothing, or confer harm. They claim that real people can be divided into groups according to strategy: (1) Those who only reciprocate benefit; (2) Those who only reciprocate harm (the vindictive); and (3) Those who reciprocate benefit and harm.

The researchers seem to think that the poorer performance by group (2) is due to the fact that they retaliate against harm, but it seems to me that a much more obvious explanation is just that they are failing to reciprocate benefit. They have fewer friends because they don't reciprocate social invitations. They are less likely to be employed because more money doesn't make them work harder. The problem is not that they respond to harm with "confer harm", but that they respond to benefit with "do nothing".

What I would like to know is how group (3) performed - the group that consistently reciprocates both benefit and harm.

Jim Ryan said at March 27, 2009 2:14 PM:

I believe there were some game theory/evolutionary psychology articles about fifteen years ago which argued that the optimal strategy is to be somewhat forgiving of offenses, rather than punishing severely after one offense and never forgiving. Might help explain way most of us aren't vindictive.

Ben Coates said at March 27, 2009 2:17 PM:

Isn't it also possible that the non-vindictive are free-riding? Negatively reciprocal people create an environment where cheating is punished even when it isn't in the interests of the victim to do so; the non-vindictive benefit from this environment.

If a would-be cheater knew in advance that there were no irrational retaliators in a population, they could abuse that group at will, resulting in less net utility than the poplation with vindictives in it.

James Bowery said at March 27, 2009 2:18 PM:

James Bowery: Vindictive much? I think you may have missed the point...

No, you missed the point about altruism.

It isn't altruism to walk away from exploitation... it may be self-serving and, in highly mobile civilizations, it frequently is.

There is nothing vindictive about the folks who got rich from causing the economic crisis -- nor is there anything altruistic about them. They can, with greater positive emotions than Randall say: "Works for me."

Buford Gooch said at March 27, 2009 3:19 PM:

It seems the best strategy in the prisoner's dilemma is "tit for tit for tat". That is, assume that the other person will not poke you twice in a row, but if he does, then hammer him mercilessly.

Fen said at March 27, 2009 3:23 PM:

As someone who routinely "takes it too far", I can't help but agree with the article.

And I spend a good deal of time frustrated that I can't "get you and your little dog too" and get away with it.

Matt said at March 27, 2009 3:29 PM:

James Bowery, your anger is misplaced. Those bankers who you blame for our economic problems are not the cause of this problem, they are merely a symptom. The cause are the politicians who created the sub-prime market by encouraging the bankers to extend loans to those who had bad credit. The based the argument on the fact that these people with bad credit tended to be poor and minorities. The best part is, they ignored the statistics and historical knowledge that clearly showed these groups had poor credit because they had poor records for paying their bill... instead they just knew they weren't getting loans from the bankers because the bankers just had to be racists.

You don't believe me? Ask yourself, why are none of these "evil", "greedy" bankers not being charged with a crime? They aren't because what they did was legal... and was made legal by our politicians. You're probably thinking that the reason they aren't getting tried is because they are rich and white, but that doesn't explain the S&L bankers, Madoff, Worldcom... and let's not forget the recent spat of political show trials. No, the only reason they are not being charged is the fact that they honestly claim that the law required them to make these loans.

If you want to be angry and vindictive about the economy... that is fine, go right ahead. But since you're, if this study is to be believed, going to pay for it... should you at least be angry at the right group of people? Or you can just go on believing what you're told... the world needs sheep too.

As an aside, your 2:18 post indicates that you are opposed to greed... does that mean you are opposed to the fact that Obama, Biden, et al. have received hundreds of thousands of dollars in political contribution from AIG, Franny/Freddie? Or is it alright because they tell you the things you want to hear?

I bet I know :) Too funny.

Fen said at March 27, 2009 3:44 PM:

"The cause are the politicians who created the sub-prime market by encouraging the bankers to extend loans to those who had bad credit"

Actually, they weren't "encouraged" - they were coerced by Congress with threats of congressional scrutiny and investigations of their "racist lending habits" if they refused to issue risky loans to inner city folk with poor credit.

Mama73 said at March 27, 2009 3:49 PM:

Or maybe vindictive people just spend so much time being bitter, angry and actively aggressive that they don't work enough to make more?

Also, having known some vindictive people, they seem to have an immense capacity to forgive failings in themselves no matter how grave, and find deep failings in the slightest offense of others. (Not to mention a marked inability to take constructive criticism).

Finally, when these people become unemployed who will help them out? Once their reputation for vindictiveness is known only a fool hires them. These people are like the scorpion in the story of the scorpion and the frog...sooner or later they turn on you. Its simply in their nature.

For the vindictive, karma is a b!+ch.

Jim Bowton said at March 27, 2009 4:02 PM:

Politicians are the villains here. They set the rules up to benefit campaign donors. Obama is still pulling that two faced trick with trillions of dollars that don't in fact exist. If you voted for those assholes, you own the problem and you caused the problem.

James Bowery said at March 27, 2009 4:22 PM:

Matt, my point is independent of who "caused" the crisis and it is even independent of whether I am angry at those who profited from it. Indeed, I have gone on record for some time that I think civilization (as in organizing population into high concentrations termed "cities" -- particularly when there is high mobility with state protections of the mobile) is a public health hazard and needs to be dismantled. Those exploiting civilization cannot necessarily be "blamed" for doing so because if they don't then someone else will take the loot and run instead.

If you think civilization is a "good thing" then there are some principles you need to understand about this exploitation dilemma:

1) Go ahead and profit from the weaknesses you find.

2) Use the profits, and credibility you gain from exploiting said weaknesses, to fix those weaknesses.

3) If you catch someone exploiting as in 1 above without fixing as in 2 above, first admonish them (which probably won't work) then denounce them (which might work) then at your convenience (at negligible cost to you) neutralize them.

I don't think even these measures are enough to save civilization since so few will adopt them.

coldequation said at March 27, 2009 5:48 PM:

Somebody already mentioned the iterated prisoners' dilemma, wherein tit-for-tat is such a good strategy, but the important feature of the IPD that's lacking in the real world is that you're forced to interact with the same player over and over. In real life you're better off to cut your losses and stop interacting with that person. Chances are you'll never see them again if you don't want to in a modern urban setting.

In a hunter-gatherer band or a small village, you'd be more likely to want to interact with that person again, and even if you didn't the next person they swindle is likely to be your kin, so it probably made more sense in the past to engage in negative reciprocity. Maybe evolution just hasn't caught up yet.

Alan K. Henderson said at March 27, 2009 9:06 PM:

Vindictive politicians make gobs of money.

tim stevens said at March 28, 2009 12:16 AM:

Shhh, don't tell those permanently nasty types over at Democrat Underground, move-on, or daily Kos.

Vindictive SOB said at March 28, 2009 6:20 AM:

OK, I didn't bother to point this out in my first post because I figured someone else might but... only an idiot would assume causation here. There are so many possible confounding factors...

Let me give you an example: let's say that I was born with a personality that made people attack me, for whatever reason. Given that situation, vindictiveness might be my best strategy. I might make more money than I would have had I not been vindictive, but less money than people who were not born antagonists... Given enough situations like that vindictiveness might turn out to be an optimal strategy even if it were negatively correlated with earnings. It might be the case that the guys who make the most money are not very vindictive because they don't have to be vindictive.. they make a lot of money even if they aren't. But maybe lower earners do better if they _are_ vindictive...

This is such an obvious confounding factor that it ought to be reported along with the study. If you failed to notice it, well.. maybe you are not bright enough to blog about this sort of thing. zThis is why you should never trust sociological studies- they are generally performed by idiots for idiots, and reported on by idiots.

Nofreelunch said at March 28, 2009 8:40 AM:

It's all about attitude!

Happiness is an attitude. We either make ourselves miserable, or happy and strong. The amount of work is the same. ~Francesca Reigler


If you don't like something change it; if you can't change it, change the way you think about it. ~Mary Engelbreit


So often time it happens, we all live our life in chains, and we never even know we have the key. ~The Eagles, "Already Gone"


The only people who find what they are looking for in life are the fault finders. ~Foster's Law

th said at March 28, 2009 2:35 PM:

Gee Mr Bowery, I got no idea what you are saying but I hope its that our non-judgemental civilization except when democrats are outraged, is bringing about the end of civilization.

James Bowery said at March 28, 2009 3:28 PM:

th: It's more basic than that. Civilization is a system. Systems have bugs. Bugs invite exploitation by the clever. It doesn't really help to have a "tit-for-tat" response since tit-for-tat depends on detection. The only thing that really works is prevention but civilization demands that the victims of exploitation pay, in taxes, for the protection of the right of exploiters to be mobile -- to travel across boundaries for supposedly "noble" goals like "trade", "tourism", "diversity", "refuge", "desegregation", "immigration", etc.

In other words, the exploited must pay for the privilege of being guaranteed morbidity and mortality in sacrivice for and in service of the "high principles" of vectorism.

David Govett said at March 28, 2009 10:54 PM:

People who make less money might have reason to be vindictive.

mark said at March 29, 2009 4:06 PM:

I 've just come off a three week Michael Scheuer binge..read his last book "Marching Towards Hell" (closely) and have been you-tubing his interviews. After all that I have become a believer, but then I am prejudiced since I have been a believer in the power of the Secret Government (CIA NSC, etc.) for a long time. The British have a better word for it than "secret"...they call it theirs the Permanent Government and thereby avoid the sensationalism.
My point is ... I wonder when, after a nuclear device or two goes off (as Scheuer says is pretty close to a certainty) we here in this country will think about all this crap and nonsense about sub prime loans. 100,000 dead and 5 million homeless and starving.
To me it seems like caring about Gary Condit multiplied a thousand times. This country is incomprehensible, or rather should I say it is made to seem so when you listen to the MM and especially its coverage of the Congress and its doings. And to think we are engaged in a war with a dangerous enemy.

mark said at March 29, 2009 4:11 PM:

I 've just come off a three week Michael Scheuer binge..read his last book "Marching Towards Hell" (closely) and have been you-tubing his interviews. After all that I have become a believer, but then I am prejudiced since I have been a believer in the power of the Secret Government (CIA NSC, etc.) for a long time. The British have a better word for it than "secret"...they call it (theirs) the Permanent Government and thereby avoid the sensationalism.
My point is ... I wonder when, after a nuclear device or two goes off (as Scheuer says is pretty close to a certainty) we here in this country will think about all this crap and nonsense about sub prime loans. 100,000 dead and 5 million homeless and starving.
To me it seems like caring about Gary Condit multiplied a thousand times. This country is incomprehensible, or rather should I say it is made to seem so when you listen to the MM and especially its coverage of the Congress and its doings. And to think we are engaged in a war with a dangerous enemy.

...just to clean up a sentence

dt said at March 29, 2009 4:50 PM:

Wow!
This is really cool! Just go through the responses and look at the different approaches to life/civilization. There are obviously numerous mind sets/approaches. Your world and mine may be very different, even though we are both "succesful" - or for that matter "failures". What works for you may not fit me. What works in your environment may not be a good strategy in mine.
dt

mark said at April 21, 2010 11:45 PM:

Obsessive vindictive people drive me up the wall. What makes people so vindictive and hate filled? What happens when someone believes that they’ve been victimized and can not accept responsibility for their own actions?
They seek revenge on the person who pointed out their faults. (Lucky me!) Seesh, learn to accept responsibility for your actions, own up to your mistakes and move on.ccna
Quit harping and whining about it and don’t think you can get even. You did it, be it was a mistake or not! Admit it and move on. Life is to short to go harping about it. There is never going to be peace with vindictive people. Where do all these vindictive little minded obsessive people come from? Did a ship land on earth somewhere?

Ralphone said at July 30, 2010 11:30 AM:

there is generally no such thing as unvindictiveness, just varying degrees of vindictiveness. I myself have perpetrated many an act of vindictiveness. Recognise that only the most enlightened of us are immune to such character flaws. Live life, remove others who cause you unneccesary problems, forgive yourself and others for causing people unneccesary problems and have the serenity to accept that practically everyone has a nasty side (but try and focus on people's good side).
ps. I myself am still regularly failing to promote courage and love with alot of people but it is ok, i have the serenity to accept that I am not perfect and can be very nasty at times
peace

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