Description: Distributive justice concerns the moral principle by which we seek to allocate resources fairly among diverse members of a society. Although the concept of fair allocation is one of the fundamental building blocks for societies, there is no clear consensus on how to achieve “socially just” allocations. Here we examine neuro-cognitive commonality of distributive judgments and risky decisions. We explore the hypothesis that people’s allocation decisions for others are closely related to economic decisions for self at behavioral, cognitive and neural levels, via a concern about the minimum, worst-off position. In a series of experiments using attention-monitoring and brain-imaging techniques, we investigated this “maximin” concern (maximizing the minimum possible payoff) via responses in two seemingly disparate tasks: third-party distribution of rewards for others, and choosing gambles for self. The experiments revealed three robust results: (1) participants’ distributive choices closely matched their risk preferences — “Rawlsians” who maximized the worst-off position in distributions for others avoided riskier gambles for themselves, while “utilitarians” who favored the largest-total distributions preferred riskier but more profitable gambles; (2) across individual choice-preferences, however, participants generally showed the greatest spontaneous attention to information about the worst possible outcomes in both tasks; and (3) such robust concerns about the minimum outcomes were correlated with activation of the right temporo-parietal junction (RTPJ), the region associated with perspective-taking. The results provide convergent evidence that social distribution for others is psychologically linked to risky decision-making for self, drawing on common cognitive-neural processes with spontaneous perspective-taking of the worst-off position.
Related article: http://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1602641113
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