Trinity scientists on inequality aversion

Normal people are hard-wired to dislike inequality, it appears.

It reminded me of the famous quote from Keynes, in this beautiful essay:

The love of money as a possession -as distinguished from the love of money as a means to the enjoyments and realities of life -will be recognised for what it is, a somewhat disgusting morbidity, one of those semicriminal, semi-pathological propensities which one hands over with a shudder to the specialists in mental disease.

18 replies on “Trinity scientists on inequality aversion”

This essay also contains the following passage:
“If economists could manage to get themselves thought of as humble, competent people, on a level with dentists, that would be splendid!”
Dream on!

I’m having difficulty, looking at the link above and at the abstract to the paper, in understanding why the researchers believe they have found an aversion to inequality rather than an aversion to unfairness. Can anyone with access to a Nature subscription throw light on this?

“Normal people are hard wired to dislike inequality”
Ah so the Bible parable of the workers in the vineyard was written by someone abnormal?

@Eamonn Moran:
“Ah so the Bible parable of the workers in the vineyard was written by someone abnormal?”

The whole of the Bible was written by someone abnormal … and that applies whether or not a deity was involved.


Actually, the labourers all ended up with the same pay, which seems egalitarian. The question was, is it fair (to come back to Con’s interesting question). And since it was a parable about the unbounded and unconditional nature of God’s love, the answer was that fairness doesn’t come into it.

Just kiddin Brian.

I was thinking of a way you guys could expand this research.

What if you were to see if certain variables effected peoples desire for equality?

What if the two people know each other or one is older or one is a different sex or a different nationality how about if there are more than two people.

Could you use this experiment to measure comparative desire for equality based on the different variables?

Or how about doing the experiment using people who have a physical distance from each other using radios or even a screen.
I mean isnt one of the reasons that people are more comfortable with inequality centricity or ethno-centricity

My priors tell me that gender ought to matter, since men and women seem in surveys to have such different attitudes towards economic reform, markets etc. But I could be completely wrong.

@Kevin O’Rourke

‘Economic Possibilities for our GrandChildren’ (1930) Keynes

How apt, timely, and opportune at the mo around here. Back to the future – back to the 30s!

Neoro-science is in infancy – and yes there is evidence of gender differences in information processing, and particularly, decision making – related to risk aversion. Very few (<5%) women make it to board level in banks and the financial services sector.

@Con — Inequality is a fairly easily quantifiable concept whereas unfairness is difficult to quantify. Hence the empirical test is in terms of inequality aversion.

@Gregory, thank you.

It struck me that, based on what I could read, the experiment did not discriminate between the possibility that participants would see the money given initially primarily as an endowment, and the possibility that they would see it primarily as a source of unfairness.

If they saw it as the former, then differences in initial funds would quantify inequality. If they saw it as the latter, then differences would quantify unfairness. Or if they took both perspectives, then the influences of the two might be jumbled up.

I imagine that it should be possible to discriminate experimentally between the two effects. For example, the discussion of the parable above suggests a way in which the experiment could be modified to treat participants unfairly while giving them the same starting funds.

Or am I missing something … ?


mainstream economists have a little difficulty with the ‘normative’ – and fair/unfair is essentially normative, linked to the social, and expressed through the subjective – the neo-classicals tend to bracket out the latter two due to understandable ‘objective measurement difficulties’ – and I know that this may cause a few cringes …… but mainstream has its limits.

@David, thank you. I reckon that we are probably in the experimental economics territory here, insofar as we are talking about economics. Fairness turns up often enough in the experimental economics text that comes immediately to hand so that I think people here should be able to stomach it.

“experimental economics” fairness – about 57,000
“behavioural economics” fairness – about 23,900

Google Scholar
“experimental economics” fairness – about 6,760
“behavioural economics” fairness – about 922


Now that you are on a roll – can anyone figure out if these hydra-headed derivatives/credit-default swaps are facts, norms, things, or abstractions? Important to figure this out – as a prerequisite to figure out how to push them into the black-hole as well. I’ve come to the conclusion that financialization is completely out of control and a threat to the survival of mankind – it is out-Ferengi_ing the Ferengi and The Matrix is now.


Normal people are hard-wired to dislike inequality, it appears.

Does the report actually say this? Or did they detect a statistically significant bias in the sample towards reward centers in the human brain responding more strongly when a poor person receives a financial reward than when a rich person does?

The above statement (OP’s) implies that it’s psychologically abnormal not to dislike inequality. It would be interesting to see if the researchers defined both abnormal and inequality in this context.

Though, I suspect the statement above is really sensationalisating a very specific piece of scientific research into a very general politically charged attention grabbing statement. In this case, I’m not sure the evidence supports it..

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