Waylaid Dialectic

August 25, 2010

The Ambiguous Benefits of Education

Filed under: Random Musings — terence @ 3:19 pm

Once again from Rothstein:

But perhaps most interesting for our purposes are the differences among students with different academic majors. Several experiments have indicated that economics students choose to cooperate significantly less often than other students and in so doing end up in social traps more often (Frank, Gilovich, and Regan 1996; Marwell and Dawes 1981).

In experiments where students with different majors were given the opportunity to accept a bribe, economics students chose to do so significantly more often than students with other majors (Frank and Schulze 2000). This begs the question of whether economics students behave as they do because their early childhood socialization processes made them into low trusters or whether it is actually their studies of the subject that create the “mental map” that leads them to choose non-cooperation, based on low generalized trust in others. The results of the cited studies varied. The most persuasive study is the one carried out by Frank, Gilovich, and Regan (1996), which indicates that the behavior is acquired through the course of studies and is not a result of early socialization. The study by Frank, Gilovich, and Regan (1993, 1996) shows that if economics instruction combines the traditional neo-classical message with elements of ethics, the difference between economics students and other students evaporates…

[Noting, as Rothstein subsequently does, that Frank’s studies have been challenged but not necessarily discredited.]


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