The Difference Between Positional Thinking and Real Interests

There is a famous psychological experiment that is often used on business school students for some reason. It asks them which choice they would make between the following situations after they graduate from business school. Either:

A. They can be hired into a job that pays $70,000 a year, while their colleagues are hired into jobs that pay on average $60,000 or

B. They can be hired into a job that pays $80,000 a year, while their colleagues on average are hired into jobs that pay $90,000 a year

Apparently the majority of the students in this experiment pick option A,  although this costs them $10,000 a year in lost income. This means they are essentially positional thinkers, and care more about their pay relative to others rather than in absolute terms. Which I find hard to relate to, because personally, mostly I care about my real interests, my absolute interests, not my relative standing to others, and so I would opt for B. But then I guess there are situations where I might opt differently, where the amount of money difference was minimal and I thought there were wider implications. Maybe the business school students thought being ahead of the pack might build their later reputation? What would you do?

Then, when you have answered that let me ask a different question. Supposing you could choose after you graduate from business school, as if you were one of the above students and had this choice. Either:

A. You can live a healthy life until the age of 70, and then die, while your fellow students live an equally healthy life until 60 and then die. Or

B. You can live a healthy life until the age of 80 and then die, while your fellow students live until 90 and then die.

Which would you pick? Situational framing may be significant in positional versus real interests thinking? Comments welcome. And if you think about it, this choice may have some major ramifications for how you live life. :)

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About creativeconflictwisdom

I spent 32 years in a Fortune Five company working on conflict: organizational, labor relations and senior management. I have consulted in a dozen different business sectors and the US Military. I work with a local environmental non profit. I have written a book on the neuroscience of conflict, and its implications for conflict handling called Creative Conflict Wisdom (forthcoming).
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