Economic Choices Have a Genetic Component


This is interesting research.

The paper, to be published in the Oct. 1 advanced online issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, looked at the ultimatum game, in which a proposer makes an offer to a responder on how to divide a sum of money. This offer is an ultimatum; if the responder rejects it, both parties receive nothing.

Because rejections in the game entail a zero payoff for both parties, theories of narrow self-interest predict that any positive amount will be accepted by a responder. The intriguing finding in the laboratory is that responders routinely reject free money, presumably in order to punish proposers for offers perceived as unfair.

To study genetic influence in the game, Cesarini and colleagues took the unusual step of recruiting twins from the Swedish Twin Registry, and had them play the game under controlled circumstances. Because identical twins share the same genes but fraternal twins do not, the researchers were able to detect genetic influences by comparing the similarity with which identical and fraternal twins played the game.

The researchers' findings suggest that genetic influences account for as much as 40 percent of the variation in how people respond to unfair offers. In other words, identical twins were more likely to play with the same strategy than fraternal twins.

Negotiators often come from law or finance, but in the future, perhaps they will come from the field of biology.

  • Paul

    This is right in line with other research I’ve seen on studies with twins to determine genetic influence. They almost always come up with a number between 40 and 50%. I guess they feel the need to test the hypothesis on every single possible situation.

  • Lord

    I am not so surprised by this but it seems the diversity of economic and risk behaviors within families is large enough that beyond identical twins there doesn’t seem to be much correlation.