Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Seasoned policymakers drive the fairest bargain of all



Contact: Christine Clark
University of California - San Diego
Seasoned policymakers drive the fairest bargain of all
First study of real-world negotiators shows they are more concerned with equity than previously believed

Is an experienced policymaker a more rational and a more self-interested bargainer than the average person? That is what nearly all prior research has assumed. But a new study from the University of California, San Diego shows just the opposite.

Appearing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study by David Victor of UC San Diego and colleagues suggests that top decision-makers care even more about fairness than the general population, and the more experience they have, the more they care about striking a fair bargain.

The study is the first to conduct laboratory bargaining experiments with people who make real-world decisions on the international stage. Participants in the study included former members of the U.S. House of Representatives, top officials in the U.S. cabinet and other government agencies, top strategists at major U.S. corporations, and thought leaders from policy think tanks and non-government organizations tasked with consulting governments on trade and energy policy.


Victor and his colleagues showed that experienced decision-makers were significantly less likely to accept low, unfair offers than college students and a diverse sample of subjects recruited online. They also tended to make higher offers when they were in the proposer role, suggesting real-world diplomats and policymakers care even more about fairness than the general population.

"One of the key assumptions in most theories of international politics is that policymakers are extremely rational and particularly good at looking out for their own interests. But until this research that assumption has never really been tested," said Victor, director of UC San Diego's Laboratory on International Law and Regulation. "Compared with typical general population samples, real-world diplomats are even more prone to act contrary to self-interest by rejecting low offers. They also appear to anticipate this fact, and make more equitable offers to other real-world diplomats."

[Maybe they know from experience that making unfairly low offers to the opposition nets them less in the long run. Why would a strategy that causes the opponents to be less likely to cooperate be considered "rational"?]

"Our findings suggest that fair offers would make all of humanity better off," Victor said. "And they suggest that top policymakers, such as senior diplomats, know this at some level. It might just be easier to solve the world's problems than many experts think."

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