• Germany edition
 
Mice games reveal why we sell out our morals
How much is a mouse life worth? Photo: DPA

Mice games reveal why we sell out our morals

Published: 24 Jun 2013 11:14 GMT+02:00
Updated: 24 Jun 2013 11:14 GMT+02:00

We've all done it - bought that cut-price T-shirt despite deep opposition to child labour or the exploitation of poor workers in developing nations. We've almost all at one point plumped for the cheaper eggs or milk which were almost certainly produced in inhumane conditions.

Armin Falk, an economist at the University of Bamberg, set up a series of experiments to figure out how and why our personal convictions so often fly out the window when we are confronted with a possible bargain.

The Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper said Falk and his team figured out it was not just the prospect of getting a good deal that undermined good intentions - being in a competitive market made it even worse.

They ran a series of experiments with mice and students which suggested this was the case.

First, the 120 students were each given a healthy mouse with a two-year life expectancy. They were then shown a video in which a mouse was gassed to death.

And then they were asked if they were willing to sell their mouse for €10 - in the knowledge that all the 'sold' mice would be gassed. The tenner was enough to convince 46 percent to give their mouse to certain death, but 54 percent saved their rodent.

The second round put the mice in more jeopardy - the students were put into pairs, one with a mouse and one with €20.

They were told to negotiate to sell and buy the mouse - but that the sold mice would all be killed.

Bargaining makes an unethical sale more likely

The seller would keep the money they made, while the buyer was told they could keep the money that was left over after the purchase. But if the sale was not successful, neither party got anything.

This market situation, with both parties due to profit from the transaction, made it much more likely that the students would sacrifice the mouse - 72 percent were willing to do so for a profit.

In the last round, the market situation was intensified - the sellers were put into competition with each other. Seven buyers were faced with nine sellers, all in a position to make a profit from the deadly mouse transaction.

This pushed the share of people ready to sell or buy a mouse, knowing this meant it would die, to 76 percent.

A competitive market drives down prices

Not only that, but the average price of a mouse life was pushed down from the initial €10 to just €5.10.

"Our results show that actors in market transactions break their own moral standards," Falk told the Frankfurter Rundschau.

The market situation not only undermines individual morals by focusing a person's attention on material rather than moral values, but also the individual sees others behaving immorally, making it easier for them to do the same.

Falk's results were criticized by others who said all he showed was that people acted differently in groups than they did when alone. "It is an important but also a very bad result," said economics ethicist Ulrich Thielemann.

Falk said he understood the objection, but maintained: "In a market with many actors, the study participants tended to ignore their ethics."

This showed why people bought products in real life which they knew were produced in ways they opposed - the market situation enabled them to ignore the problems, the paper said.

'We need legally binding moral standards'

And it was also why individuals deciding to make moral decisions when shopping would never be enough, said Thielemann - individual consumers did not have enough money or information to be able to make a difference.

"What we need is institutional ethics - something in the form of legally-binding social and environmental standards," he said.

"The market forces the weak to be honest about their weaknesses to the stronger elements. But not to be morally upstanding."

And he asked: "Why do many producers not voluntarily say where these cheap T-shirts come from? Because it pays off in the market to not be honest about these things."

The Local/hc

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Don't miss...X
Left Right

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Siemens lands €650m Norway wind power deal
Photo: DPA

Siemens lands €650m Norway wind power deal

German engineering giant Siemens has won a contract worth 650 million euros to supply wind turbines to Norwegian power groups Statoil and Statkraft, the company said Thursday. READ  

BVB seeks cash to match Bayern
Photo: DPA

BVB seeks cash to match Bayern

Borussia Dortmund announced its plan to raise €114.4 million on Thursday in an effort to compete with Bundesliga rival Bayern Munich. READ  

Merkel tops Putin hot-line call queue
Call me maybe: The Berlin-Moscow hot-line has been busy. Photo: DPA

Merkel tops Putin hot-line call queue

"If there's somethin' strange in your neighbourhood; Who ya gonna call?" If you're Vladimir Putin, growing ever more isolated among his G8 peers, it's Angela Merkel, say the Kremlin hot-line stats. READ  

More Germans seek assisted dying abroad
A Belgian "suicide kit" including the commonly-used drug sodium pentothal. Photo: DPA

More Germans seek assisted dying abroad

A study revealed today that more people traveled to Switzerland to undergo assisted dying from Germany than from any other country in 2012. READ  

80,000 trainee jobs empty as Germans opt for uni
Photo: DPA

80,000 trainee jobs empty as Germans opt for uni

More young people are choosing university degrees over vocational training, leaving firms scrambling to find qualified new hires. READ  

Doctor arrested over medical test 'rape' photos
The Bamberg Clinic, where alleged abuse was reported. Photo: DPA

Doctor arrested over medical test 'rape' photos

Police in Bavaria have arrested a 48-year-old doctor for allegedly drugging and raping medical test volunteers, media reported Thursday. READ  

German of the Week
Nuts and bolts of being a piercing king
Rolf Buchholz, world's most pierced man. Photo: Caro von D Photografie

Nuts and bolts of being a piercing king

The world's most-pierced man, Rolf Buchholz, was just deported from Dubai, for fear of 'black magic', he says. But as shocking as many people find his body modifications, it is a genuine passion, our German of the Week explains. And who knows, he may just enchant you yet. READ  

Amazon 'should not endanger diversity'
State minister for culture and media Monika Grütters. Photo: DPA

Amazon 'should not endanger diversity'

A German minister on Wednesday threw her weight behind the authors battling US online retail giant Amazon over its alleged strong-arm negotiating tactics with publishers. READ  

Opposition calls for arms export debate
Photo: DPA

Opposition calls for arms export debate

Green Party leader Katrin Göring-Eckhardt is calling for a special session of parliament following Wednesday's announcement that Germany will break its rules and deliver weapons to an active conflict zone. READ  

Families find solace and help with seniors
Photo: DPA

Families find solace and help with seniors

When Verena Herz found out she was pregnant with twins, she had no idea what she was in for. Luckily, she was able to borrow a grandmother. The Local learns the advantages of welcoming a new grandparent into the family and why Omas and Opas say: "I tell everybody about it!" READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Photo: DPA
Culture
Sprechen Sie Deutsch? 10 reasons why you should.
Photo: DPA
Society
A German journalist shares the story of his US arrest in Ferguson
Photo: DPA
National
Berlin's senate puts the brakes on Über
Photo: DPA
Gallery
The mysteries of Berlin's abandoned theme park
Photo: DPA
Culture
How I deal with my German Hausmeister
Photo: Ingrid Eulenfan/flickr
Gallery
Nine German treats you'll want to eat right now (and one you won't)
Photo: DPA
Society
Who's getting German citizenship?
Photo: DPA
Culture
How World War I changed Germany forever
Photo: APA/DPA
Gallery
The 12 best words in Austrian German
Photo: DPA
Society
'Look at those German shanty towns!'
Photo: Europeana.de 1914 - 1918
Gallery
A German soldier's life behind WWI lines
Education
Raising the bar for law & business in Germany
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
JobTalk: All you need to know about working in Germany
Photo: DPA
Features
The Local List Archive - Your guide to all things German
National
Share news tips with The Local Germany
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

3,365
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd