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Social Influence

People measure themselves in relation to their social environment. They then make decisions based on emotions that arise during one’s social relations. In a study of participants in the above “Ultimatum Game,” the participants’ brain activity was monitored while deciding whether to take the amount of money offered. It turned out that in the process of receiving the offer, two different areas were working in the brain—the area in charge of making rational decisions, and the area in charge of anger.

The more unfair the participant considered the offer, the more the activity of the anger segment of the brain prevailed over the rational consideration. The participant tended to reject the offer and remain without the money.

One always compares oneself to others in their reference group. Because our social nature causes this behavior, emotions of contentment and satisfaction—or indifference, frustration, and anger—join rational considerations. These responses result from our social relations, and may lead us to make choices that yield negative results, both toward us and toward society.

This was demonstrated in many studies, such as that of Professors Sara Solnick and David Hemenway, “Are Positional Concerns Stronger in Some Domains than in Others?” In their study, they claim, “Given a constant purchasing power of money, almost half of respondents would prefer to live in a poorer world, earning $200,000 rather than $400,000, if most other people were earning $100,000 rather than $800,000.”

However, the combination of comparing ourselves with others, along with the influence of the environment, can also bring positive results. On April 8, 2011, Justina Wheale of The Epoch Times wrote, “In a new study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Dr. Karl Aquino and his team found that after witnessing exceptionally altruistic acts, people are more likely to perform charitably themselves.” [88]

Dr. Aquino and his team also wrote, “They have some sort of emotional reaction—they’re inspired, they feel somewhat awed by the behavior, they may get severe physiological reactions. A lot of these changes can then lead them to try to do good things for others.”

[88] Justina Wheale, “Witnessing Acts of Compassion Prompts People to Do Good,” The Epoch Times (April 8, 2011),

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