Is Generosity The Key Reducing Stress?
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If you’ve ever made a purchase on eBay, you know the feeling. You don’t want to bid too high, because you might actually have to PAY that much. Then again, you don’t want to underbid, because you REALLY want that pair of shoes. If you do this often enough, you probably understand that it gets a bit tedious mentally, but what you don’t realize is that you are actually putting additional, real-time stress on your body.
Researchers from the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) examined the physiological reactions of participants in a financial bargaining game. They discovered that not only those receiving relatively low offers experienced stress, but those that make generous offers experience increased levels of emotional wellbeing.
They recently published their findings in the scientific journal Public Library of Science (PLOS) ONE. The study focuses on emotional determinants of decision-making in ultimatum situations, an issue typically assessed using interview or survey-based research.
The Beginning of The Study
Participants were asked to play the Ultimatum Bargaining Game (UBG). In this scenario, players decide how to divide a specific amount of money given to them. The proposer suggests how to divide the money and the responder must accept or reject the offer. If the responder rejects it, neither participant receives any money. The Ultimatum Bargaining Game (UBG) demonstrates the role of social preferences in individual decision-making processes. The UBG is one of the most heavily studied games in experimental economics, but it also can be strongly linked to social preferences, as well as the analysis of emotions in general. As we are forced on a daily basis to make ultimatum-bound decisions, these types of research-based games provide a strong model for how we make our decisions.
Previous research studies using the Ultimatum Bargaining Game have required brain-scanning technologies to interpret results and, as such, have confined research outcomes to the lab. In this recent study, however, investigators used a simpler physiological measure called heart rate variability (HRV).
The study, according to author and professor Uwe Dulleck, from QUT's Queensland Behavioural Economics Group (QuBE), analyzed the emotional reactions of participants in ultimatum situations and is one of the first to use HRV in economic experiments to measure mental stress in economic decision-making. "We wanted to understand the physiological reactions people have in these situations so responders and proposers wore heart rate monitors to track Heart Rate Variability (HRV) -- the variation in the time interval between heart beats," Professor Dulleck said. HRV has been theoretically and empirically linked to emotional responses by registering a ‘cardiac signature’ or ‘theatre’ of emotions, according to Dulleck. "We found low offers, typically below 40 percent of the total, increased HRV activity and stress levels in both the proposer and responder."
Co-author Dr Markus Schaffner, Manager of the QuBE Laboratory for Economic Experiments at QUT, said "guilt" felt by the proposer about to make a low offer was one possible explanation for the increase in stress. "This can be seen as evidence that we empathise with people and put ourselves in their shoes in these sorts of situations," he said. Schaffner continues, "the results indicate we have negative feelings when we treat someone unfairly, for example by offering below 40 per cent of the total in the game. There is an emotional and physiological cost and we feel uncomfortable.”
HRV measurements provide clear evidence that LOW offers (not generous) in the Ultimatum Bargaining Game also lead to high levels of physiological arousal in responders and proposers. They interpret the arousal as a sign of mental stress. "The responder also feels stressed with low offers,” explains Schaffner. “First, because they have suffered from unfairness, and second, because they have an opportunity to punish the proposer by rejecting the offer and leaving them both without any money.” "Our preference is to be fair and it is likely proposers experience pleasure when making fair offers," reasons Schaffner.
According to Dulleck, "The question which remains without a clear answer is: do emotions dictate behaviour or does behaviour induce emotional response? "Our results can give no definite answer to this question, but do clearly indicate a link between emotional state and the decision." So the next time you want to place a bid on eBay, go with your gut. Make a fair and honest offer. Your body will thank you for it.
Conclusion: Generosity behavior may be linked with enhanced wellbeing, and self-centered behavior appears to be linked with increased levels of stress.
- Laura Wells
Dulleck, U., Schaffner, M., & Torgler, B. (2014, September 23). Heartbeat and Economic Decisions: Observing Mental Stress among Proposers and Responders in the Ultimatum Bargaining Game. Retrieved December 4, 2014, from http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0108218
Queensland University of Technology. (2014, October 28). Don't bet on stinginess to keep stress low. ScienceDaily. Retrieved December 4, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/10/141028101625.htm