I recently wrote about a study on “alpha males.” The research involved measuring men’s testosterone level while they played The Ultimate Game
The Ultimatum Game gives one player money and lets that player divide it between himself and another player. The second player can accept or refuse the split. If the second player refuses the allocation, neither player receives any money. While pure self interest would predict that the second player should always accept the split in order to receive some money instead of nothing, in reality offers perceived as low or unfair are often declined. In this case, the first player was given $40 and the option of offering the other player either $25 or $5.
The study found that males with higher testosterone were more likely to turn down a deal they felt was unfair, but when given the choice between offering $5 or $25 to the other player, they offered the higher amount.
The researchers concluded that alpha males have a generous side. But was generosity really the motivation?
I was talking with Jeffrey Eisenberg about the study and he suggested an alternative motivation. Jeffrey thinks it was not generosity, but self-interest that motivated the higher offering. Alpha males realize that if they offered $5, the other person, like them, would turn down the deal and no one would get the money. So, it was actually in their own interest to offer the higher amount.
Hmmm… makes sense to me. Not being an alpha, or a male, I was willing to go along with the author’s conclusion. But makes me wonder; how often do we see behavior and attribute motivations that may not be accurate?