Social status matters. And if you’re lucky enough to have an impressive surname, you might do rather well in life. So well that some people are apparently prepared to lie about their true name – such as Catarina Pietra Toumei, who was caught out pretending to be a countess from the wealthy Guggenheim family.
Do you think you treat people differently depending on what you perceive their social status to be? Over in Sweden, some economists ran an interesting experiment, a variation on the dictator game, with an extra person. In the dictator game, the “dictator” is given some money and gets to decide how much of it to give away to some other person. It’s often used to test altruism. In the variation that the Swedish economists used, a third person was allowed to “punish” the dictator, by taking away some money – the catch being that the third person didn’t get to keep any of it, so that on the basis of maximising money gained, there isn’t much point in the third person doing any punishing.
The “dictators” either had the “noble” name “von Essen” or the “common” name “Andersson”. (By striking coincidence, “von Essen” was the surname of one of the researchers.)
Apparently, men were more likely to punish other men with the common surname “Andersson”. By contrast, women didn’t discriminate between them. What’s going on here? Are men just a bit snobby? Are they highly attuned to social status because their ancestors had to compete to survive? If so, why wouldn’t they prefer to do damage to the high status individuals?
Perhaps it depends on what men perceive their own social status to be. Perhaps an interesting area for future research…
The full paper is here: http://swopec.hhs.se/hastef/papers/hastef0732.pdf