Number crunching may make people selfish

People with a "calculative mindset" as a result of number crunching are more likely to engage in selfish and unethical behaviour, suggests a study.


Repeated engagement with number-focused calculations, especially those involving money, can have unintended negative consequences, including social and moral transgressions, the findings showed.

"Performing calculations, whether related to money or not, seemed to encourage people to engage in unethical behaviours to better themselves," said study co-author Chen-Bo Zhong, an associate professor at the University of Toronto in Canada.

After exposure to a lesson on a calculative economics concept, participants in a set of experiments displayed significantly more selfish behaviour in games where they could opt to promote their self-interest over a stranger's.

Participants who were instead given a history lesson on the industrial revolution were less likely to behave selfishly in the subsequent games.

The researchers found a similar but lesser effect when participants first solved math problems instead of verbal problems before playing the games.

Furthermore, the effect could potentially be reduced by making non-numerical values more prominent.


The study showed less self-interested behaviour when participants were shown pictures of families after calculations.

The study was published in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.

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