On Fairness: What if life is rigged in your favor?

If the game of life is rigged in your favor, does that change your behavior towards others? Paul Piff of the University of California at Berkeley devised an experiment to test this idea. Instead of the Game of Life, he used Monopoly.

In this TED talk, he explains how he had pairs of strangers play Monopoly in his lab. He changed the rules so that one of the strangers, chosen by the flip of a coin, received twice as much money to start, was paid twice as much money for passing Go, and could roll two die instead of one.

Of course, the person who started with twice as much won the game. Along the way, they said some demeaning things to the other player, ate more of the snacks provided, and displayed more gestures of dominance.

At the end of the game, researchers asked players to talk about their experience of playing the game. Players who got all the breaks attributed their success to how they had played the game, not to the fact that they randomly benefited from rules that gave them an inherent and consistent advantage over the competition.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that those who randomly got the big break were bad people. It does show how people try to make sense of privilege.

This is just one of several research projects Piff details in his TED talk. I’d like to see the Monopoly experiment tried across different cultures and correlated with the GINI index of inequality. Maybe Professor Piff will do another TED talk.

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