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On the psychology and economics of antisocial personality

Using an interdisciplinary experimental approach grounded in behavioral economics and personality psychology, we identify an antisocial personality profile and examine its role across strategic contexts.

J.B. Engelman, B. Schmid, K.W. De Dreu, J. Chumbley, & E. Fehr
01 July 2019
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA

How do fundamental concepts from economics, such as individuals’ preferences and beliefs, relate to equally fundamental concepts from psychology, such as relatively stable personality traits? Can personality traits help us better understand economic behavior across strategic contexts? We identify an antisocial personality profile and examine the role of strategic context (the “situation”), personality traits (the “person”), and their interaction on beliefs and behaviors in trust games. Antisocial individuals exhibit a specific combination of beliefs and preferences that is difficult to reconcile with a rational choice approach that assumes that beliefs about others’ behaviors are formed rationally and therefore, independently from preferences. Variations in antisocial personality are associated with effect sizes that are as large as strong variations in strategic context. Antisocial individuals have lower trust in others unless they know that they can punish them. They are also substantially less trustworthy, believe that others are like themselves, and respond to the possibility of being sanctioned more strongly, suggesting that they anticipate severe punishment if they betray their partner’s trust. Antisocial individuals are not simply acting in their economic self-interest, because they harshly punish those who do not reciprocate their trust, although that reduces their economic payoff, and they do so nonimpulsively and in a very calculated manner. Antisocial individuals honor others’ trust significantly less (if they cannot be punished) but also, harshly punish those who betray their trust. Overall, it seems that antisocial individuals have beliefs and behaviors based on a view of the world that assumes that most others are as antisocial as they themselves are.

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