Your Brain on Economics (Pt. II)

Although I didn’t intend to initially, I wanted to return to my blog post from 2 weeks ago. In that post, I attempted to address some points made by Brian M. Lucey on what happens to students who are taking more economics. His article is fairly concisely summarized by the following photo that he posted on his blog:

So the question is: is this accurate? Do students who take economics become greedier and less inclined to cooperation than those who do not, based on the studies outlined in the post above? I think I unfairly smeared his point before, when I as said that economics makes people more greedy, when in reality, Brian is saying that there is a trend of economics students being more trusted and more likely to play the odds than those who major in other fields. In truth, Mr. Lucey concludes his post with a very valid, and interesting proposed study to complete: a longitudinal study of students entering and exiting an economics major. The question is: what is a longitudinal study and will that help sort out how economics influences students?

A longitudinal study is one where people perform some sort of test, both before and after some event whose impact we’d like to measure: in our case, an economics class or degree. The test before helps establish a ‘baseline’ for an individual, since they likely will bring some attributes with them before taking the classes: attributes that may influence which classes they take, perhaps. This helps to rule out the possibility that those who are more willing to compromise their morality for their final result, are more likely to take economics than those who do not. With this out of the way, we can look at the change in the given individual’s selfishness after the class, with the reasonable assumption that any additional selfishness came through the class in question, or from something that occurred alongside that class.

The issue comes, however, when trying to build a survey to measure this? It can’t be the same test, since the first test itself may influence the second taking of the test (and may influence a separate test as well.) In order to do this properly, we’d need 2 separate tests, with 2 groups of students who took each test in opposite order from one another in order to help rule out any impact that may come from the order of the test.

There isn’t a solid conclusion, at this point, to say whether or not economics has a negative impact on the charity of its students, but there could be, and Brian Lucey is right to want to look into that. How such a test, and the observation of the trends is impactful however, is another story that’s worthy of discussion.


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