In a famous experiment I’ve mentioned here before, you get different results when an economic game is titled the ‘Community Game’, versus the ‘Wall Street Game’.  Despite the exact same rules, structure, and payoffs, the frame changes the game:  Wall Street players cooperate less than Community Game players.

But, Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution points out some recent results that suggest that it may be Wall Street in particular that is triggering suspicion, not markets in general.  The study described over at MR primed markets in a different way, getting participants to rearrange sentences that had words related to markets, commerce and trade:  “Paid”, “commercial”, “shop”, etc.  (A control group of participants rearranged similar sentences with different, non-market words).

What they found was that priming markets increased players’ trusting behaviour in an economic trust game.  It’s hard to know from their results whether this is really trust, or simply willingness to take on risk.  Perhaps both market-primed and non-market-primed players are equally suspicious of their partner in the game, but market-primed players are more willing to gamble.

Though more work probably remains, it’s an interesting result, and suggest to me that it’s worth thinking carefully about the distinction between markets and business when we think of economic influences on trust.


Edit:  Via Thomas Zeitzoff, another interesting related paper in Science:   In behavioural games, players in societies with well-developed markets (operationalized in terms of how much of your food is purchased rather than grown yourself) tend to play with greater concern for fairness.