A few years ago, Israeli game theorist Ariel Rubinstein got the idea of examining how the tools of economic science affected the judgment and empathy of his undergraduate students at Tel Aviv University. He made each student the CEO of a struggling hypothetical company, and tasked them with deciding how many employees to lay off. Some students were given an algebraic equation that expressed profits as a function of the number of employees on the payroll. Others were given a table listing the number of employees in one column and corresponding profits in the other. Simply presenting the layoff/profits data in a different format had a surprisingly strong effect on students’ choices—fewer than half of the “table” students chose to fire as many workers as was necessary to maximize profits, whereas three quarters of the “equation” students chose the profit-maximizing level of pink slips. Why? The “equation” group simply “solved” the company’s problem of profit maximization, without thinking about the consequences for the employees they were firing.
Read the whole story: Slate