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Take a closer look at what the media report: Recent studies about fairness and empathy

From Stephanie West Allen’s blog on Neuroscience and conflict resolution .

Reading about research in the media sometimes can be misleading. Here are two recent examples. First, several articles and blog posts have covered "The Sunny Side of Fairness," research out of UCLA by Golnaz Tabibnia, Ajay B. Satpute, and Matthew D. Lieberman.

An article about the study at is titled "Are humans hardwired for fairness?" Professor Greg Downey of Neuroanthropology posted at Craving money, chocolate and… justice his concern about interpreting the research as saying fairness is hardwired.

I still reject the notion that this necessarily proves that we are ‘hard-wired to treat fairness as a reward [quoting Dr. Lieberman in a UCLA press release].’  I don’t think that the research shows anything about ‘hard-wiring’, but rather about the ‘wiring’ of university students. No developmental or cross-cultural data has been discussed that might go to the issue of whether this ‘wiring’ is ‘hard’ or ’soft,’ and I strongly suspect that it’s not ‘hard’ in the sense that this usually means, as we have plenty of cross-cultural evidence suggesting not every society thinks money should be divided equally, or even that money is terribly valuable.

The notion of ‘hard-wiring’ still seems to me to be one of the most problematic pieces of baggage that gets drug out in much of the brain imaging research, usually without data that would actually support it. The research is plenty interesting without the assumption of ‘hard-wiring’, . . .

I am looking forward to reading the study. Here you will find links to the study and to several articles about it.

Samp0b758322e1799a11The second example: At idealawg, I posted Better to lead with thinking rather than feeling in negotiations? Maybe if you are an MBA student in a negotiations course. I question the conclusions drawn from the research both in the media—and by the study itself.

Bottom line: Whenever possible, read the actual studies in addition to what the media reports.


Stephanie West Allen

Stephanie West Allen, JD, practiced law in California for several years, held offices in local bar associations, and wrote chapters for California Continuing Education of the Bar. While in CA, Stephanie completed several five-day mediation training programs with the Center for Mediation in Law, as well as a two-year intensive… MORE >

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