Różycka-Tran, J., Boski, P., & Wojciszke, B. (2015). Belief in a zero-sum game as a social axiom: A 37-nation study. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 1, 24. pdf
A group of Polish psychologists has expanded the list of social axioms with a very intriguing one. They called it “belief in a zero-sum game” which is a belief that if someone gets anything it means someone else has lost it.
The concept of zero-sum game was adopted from game theory, but it’s not very popular in cross-cultural research. This is a very important concept in institutional economics, where the zero-sum game mimics the imperfect institutions that can shape how people behave. In the reviewed paper the authors were interested not in institutional conditions but rather in perceptions of these conditions. This issue matters particularly in relation to cultural barriers of economic development. Potentially, a production of added value is problematic if no one believes it’s possible.
The previous findings from Polish samples showed that people who believe that the game has zero-sum, are generally the ones who used to lose. This is a clear tendency of a personality to keep its psychological balance – “I didn’t win, because the others took my win” (not “because I wasn’t able to”).
Using psychology student samples from 37 nations the authors measured this belief with a battery, including 8 items such as “when somebody gains, others have to lose”, “person wins only when others lose”, and surprisingly “interests of different people are inconsistent” and “When someone does much for others, he or she loses.”