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I have a strong feeling that many people consider life as a zero-sum game, i.e. they always assume that you'll benefit, if you harm/disadvantage someone. Any research on this?

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The premise of your question implies disbelief in altruism and malice without associated gain, as these could not exist in a true zero-sum game. There may be plenty of cynics and pragmatists in the world who possess such beliefs, but it hardly seems plausible as a majority opinion. I'd bet most people are acquainted with altruism and believe that others are capable of gainless "evil", or something like that...Just commenting my initial reaction here in hope that it might help you clarify your issue of interest. It's an awfully short question as is... – Nick Stauner Apr 28 '14 at 21:19
Yes, Yochelson and Samenow's famous work on the psychology of criminals found this belief to be comparatively common among the offenders they studied. – Codeswitcher Apr 29 '14 at 3:49
@Nick Stauner, I don't think this belief has something to do with pragmatism. – user626528 May 8 '14 at 17:51
Laymen's pragmatism might permute into this sort of belief: "People don't choose their behaviors to help or harm others; they choose what will benefit themselves, even though this selfishness harms others." – Nick Stauner May 8 '14 at 17:56
@Nick Stauner, looks like affirming the consequent – user626528 May 8 '14 at 18:14
up vote 2 down vote accepted

This kind of thinking can be connected simply with psychoticism, which is classed as personality trait by Eysenck (1976). One pole of this trait is connected with altriusm and pro-social behaviours and the second one with psychopathy, schizofrenic and criminality behaviours.


1) Eysenck, H. J (1976) Psychoticism as a dimension of personality

2) Erik Woody†,* andGordon Claridge (2011) Psychoticism and thinking

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I agree that it can be, but whether it should be in a given case is debatable. Other reasons might exist for this sort of thinking, such as personal experience with victimization and resultant dispositional cynicism/mistrust. BTW, welcome to Cognitive Sciences! I love to see a new user posting references like these. – Nick Stauner Apr 30 '14 at 21:00
Hello! Thank you for the welcome:) – Zuzanna Kowalska Apr 30 '14 at 21:09

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