Apr 13, 2021

No such thing as fair

Chris Voss runs the following experiment with his students to illustrate that there is no such thing as fair: he pairs two people up, a “proposer” and an “accepter”, and gives the proposer $10. The proposer has to offer the accepter a round number of dollars. If the accepter agrees, they receive what’s been offered and the proposer keeps the rest. If the accepter refuses the deal, neither gets any money.

The shocking results of this experiment is that no matter what split the pairs agree on, they find themselves in a minority. The conclusion is that there is no consensus on what constitutes a fair split of found money. If you approach a negotiation thinking that the other person thinks like you, you’re wrong. You’re projecting instead of being empathetic for their position.

In Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain, neuroscientist Antonio Damasio explains a groundbreaking discovery he made. Studying people who had brain damage in the part of the brain where emotions are generated, he found that they all had something peculiar in common: they couldn’t make decisions. They could describe what they should do in logical terms, but found it impossible to make even the simplest choice.

While we may use logic to reason ourselves toward a decision or to rationalize why a decision was made in retrospect, the actual decision making is governed by emotion and is therefore entirely irrational.