Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Game of Life Surprises; Are You Trustworthy? A Game at the British Science Festival Will Put You to the Test, Researchers Tell RACHEL WEARMOUTH

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Game of Life Surprises; Are You Trustworthy? A Game at the British Science Festival Will Put You to the Test, Researchers Tell RACHEL WEARMOUTH

Article excerpt


OW cooperative are you? How trusting? How do you respond to the generosity of others? And how much would you be prepared to sacrifice for the common good? Visitors to the British Science Festival will get a chance to find out the answers to these somewhat unsettling questions when they take part in 'The Big Society Interactive Psychology Games', an event devised to test participants through a series of moral dilemmas. From car share pools to carbon footprints, we face moral dilemmas on a daily basis and whether the context is personal or global, acting for the common good requires individuals to put aside selfish motives.

The human reaction to these challenges is something that fascinates evolutionary biologist Dr John Lazarus, an Associate Researcher at Newcastle University's Institute of Neuroscience, and it's something he plans to throw a new light on when he invites participants to play two games used by psychologists and economists in search of the factors that encourage behaviour for the common good.

Participants playing the games in a cabaret setting at the Tyneside Cinema Bar, on Monday, September 9, will experience a moral dilemma themselves, and will learn about the scientific study of this important area of social life.

Dr Lazarus said: "Participants find it absolutely fascinating to face these social dilemmas through game play and to find out how they think in relation to how others behave."

The first of the two games we will be playing is called The Ultimatum Game - it's very simple and very powerful and reveals the importance of fairness in human relationships.

The second is The Public Goods Game which examines trust.

Continued The tragedy of this game is that if everyone acts selfishly then nobody 20 benefits but conversely if everyone is selfless then the benefits are doubled for everyone. "The Public Goods Game will aim to get people really passionate about a particular 'local community' issue - whether that's related to crime and policing, arts and culture, health, the environment or social services - and motivate them to make decisions that affect the public good." Dr Lazarus' research at Newcastle University's focused on discovering how cooperation and trust have evolved.

He said: "My main interest for a number of years has been in how cooperation has evolved in the organic world, and particularly in the human species. "Understanding our cooperative nature is of real importance in a world beset with global problems requiring cooperation for their solution. It's pretty important for getting along with your neighbour too. "Signals of trustworthiness must have evolved in the human species, but there is a puzzle here. "Since it is easy to lie about one's intentions, and costly to be duped, why weren't cooperative signals - such as a friendly tone of voice or a smile - ignored by our early ancestors? "Such signals would then have vanished from the human repertoire during our evolution. "Taking natural selection as a starting point, it has been a challenge to understand behaviours that are altruistic since nature favours survivors.

Yet there is a lot of cooperation in the animal and human world and I'm really interested in understanding this. "Humans are an incredibly cooperative species - even being prepared to put their own life at risk to help others. "Economists and psychologists are interested in people's motives. Economists traditionallycomefrom the starting point of assuming that people behave rationally and selfishly to increase utility and anything of value - everything from how many children they have to how much money they make. "But 30 or 40 years of experiments blow that apart and the games we will play illustrate this point perfectly."

ASK THE SCIENTIST QUESTIONS have been flooding in for the scientists working behind the scenes to put together the British Science Festival in September. …

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