Study reveals that traders are worse than psychopaths

November 2, 2011

St. Gallen University in Switzerland recently conducted a study to examine the differences and similarities between stock market traders, clinically diagnosed psychopaths, and representative “normal” citizens when tested with the classic prisoners dilemma game. As expected, the traders revealed a much higher penchant for competitive advantage and destructive behavior than the “normals”. What wasn’t expected–and what is highly interesting–is that the traders outdid the clinical psychopaths in psychopathic tendencies. 

Thomas Noll, one of the conductors of the study said in a Spiegel interview:

“Naturally one can’t characterize the traders as deranged, but for example, they behaved more egotistically and were more willing to take risks than a group of psychopaths who took the same test.”

Particularly shocking for Noll was the fact that the bankers weren’t aiming for higher winnings than their comparison group. Instead they were more interested in achieving a competitive advantage. Instead of taking a sober and businesslike approach to reaching the highest profit, “it was most important to the traders to get more than their opponents,” Noll explained. “And they spent a lot of energy trying to damage their opponents.”

Using a metaphor to describe the behavior, Noll said the stockbrokers behaved as though their neighbor had the same car, “and they took after it with a baseball bat so they could look better themselves.” 

While there are questions and possible objections concerning the methodology of this study, the results are highly suggestive and provide at least some evidence in support of a suspicion that many people have concerning traders.

One other interesting aspect of this study is that the prisoner dilemma games that were played did not allow participants to know each other’s identity. This anonymity nicely represents the computer-based reality traders see when conducting their business, making the results of the study all the more compelling .

Link: Spiegel Online international 

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