Economics students : selfish by nature, altruistic by nurture
Economics and its teaching have gone through considerable introspection in recent years including on the question of whether the widely used assumption of self-interest suppresses altruism in students. In this paper we examine whether students of economics exhibit differences in altruistic preferences and whether this is due to indoctrination or selection effects. We employ a survey with embedded Dictator Game and Ultimatum Game experiments, randomizing the use of a prime with the aim of activating prior knowledge in the memory of our respondents and constructing an index of previous exposure to economics. Through difference in means and formal regression analysis, we find that while students choosing to major in economics are likely to give lower donations than others (particularly in stylized DG and UG games), stronger exposure to economics yields higher donations. These findings suggest that while students of economics may well be less altruistic by nature, stronger exposure to economics is associated with stronger levels of altruism.