Association for Behavior Analysis International

The Association for Behavior Analysis International® (ABAI) is a nonprofit membership organization with the mission to contribute to the well-being of society by developing, enhancing, and supporting the growth and vitality of the science of behavior analysis through research, education, and practice.


49th Annual Convention; Denver, CO; 2023

Event Details

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Symposium #96
Social Distance: Empirical Investigations
Saturday, May 27, 2023
5:00 PM–5:50 PM
Hyatt Regency, Centennial Ballroom B
Area: EAB; Domain: Basic Research
Chair: Natalie Buddiga (University of Nevada, Reno)
Abstract: Social discounting quantitatively describes how reinforcer value decreases as a function of the recipient’s social distance. For example, $100 to a family member or best friend, who is very close in social distance, is valued more highly than $100 to an acquaintance or stranger, who is very far in social distance. This quantitative decline in value has been used to explain altruism from a behavior analytic perspective and understand a range of prosocial and maladaptive behaviors. But while it has been established that altruistic choice will change as a function of our social distance, little research has investigated social distance itself. Therefore, understanding this construct is critical to a behavior analytic understanding of altruism. The current symposium will present three empirical investigations related to social distance; first, basic variables influencing social distance will be presented, followed by a quantitative evaluation of dislike, and, lastly, how multilevel marketing impacts social networks. Future research and implications of these studies will be discussed.
Instruction Level: Intermediate
Keyword(s): Altruism, Probability, Quantitative Analysis, Social discounting

Why Don’t You Like Me?: Isolating Variables Influencing Social Distance

NATALIE BUDDIGA (University of Nevada, Reno), Matt Locey (University of Nevada, Reno)

Social discounting refers to the decline in value of a reinforcer as the recipient increases in social distance. While social discounting fits the hyperbolic equation used for delay and probability discounting, this titrating variable of social distance remains unexamined. The current study evaluated how social distance changed as a function of probability of reciprocation. Participants engaged in a Prisoner’s Dilemma Game with three confederate players (CP; one game per CP) and each confederate was programmed to reciprocate at one of three probabilities: 25%, 75%, or 100% (or tit-for-tat). An additional analysis measured the participant’s preference for playing with each CP, too. Results demonstrate that participants cooperated more with the CP that played tit-for-tat while cooperation was more similar for the 25% and 75% CPs. In the social distance ranking task, all players’ social distance reduced (indicating greater “closeness” to all players after interacting with them), however the tit-for-tat player was ranked closest in social distance. Moreover, the tit-for-tat player was chosen the most often in the preference analysis. Results therefore suggest that probability of reciprocation is an influential variable for both cooperation and social distance. Implications and future directions for social distance research are discussed.

Social Discounting and Hate
PAUL ROMANOWICH (Gonzaga University)
Abstract: Social discounting studies have repeatedly shown that individuals share less of a commodity as social distances between a person and the individual they can share with increases. Social distance can also be interpreted as how much you like another given person. In fact, instructions for most social discounting tasks include the term ‘dearest friend’ as a social distance descriptor. However, the opposite of liking, disliking or hate, has never been studied during social discounting tasks but may yield important information about whether disliking or hating another person may yield symmetrical choices. The current study enrolled 100 participants to make choices between either a larger amount for themselves (up to $155) or a smaller amount for themselves ($75) and a loss for the person they disliked ($75, $235, 0r $750) across a range of social distances for people they disliked. Results showed that participants were willing to forgo hypothetical money to inflict a loss on a person that they disliked (Figure 1). However, unlike social discounting with individuals that are liked, participants generally either chose to consistently inflict a loss or would not inflict any loss on the individuals they disliked (i.e., bimodal). Additionally, the amount that participants were willing to forgo to inflict a loss did not monotonically increase as a function of the loss magnitude for the disliked individual. Participants that could inflict a $235 loss generally would forgo the most hypothetical money to do so. The results are discussed in terms of how to best empirically and quantitatively study disliking.

Selling to Your Friends: How Social Discounting Affects Decisions in Multilevel Marketing Sales

BRYAN JONES (Kent State University at Ashtabula)

Multilevel Marketing (MLM) companies generate billions of dollars in annual revenue by recruiting individuals to sell goods or services to their friends and family members. Despite the popularity of these companies, no study has examined the impact that these requests have on social networks and altruistic choices. In this pilot study participants with and without prior MLM experience completed the social discounting task, which measures altruism as it relates to social distance, and a novel purchasing task in which participants choose between purchasing goods from friends and family at varying social distances versus purchasing the same goods from a retail store for a lesser cost. Preliminary results show that individuals are more generous when asked to share money with a friend or family member compared to the amount of money they would be willing to give up in order to purchase items from a friend or family member’s MLM endeavor. Social distance determines how much an individual is willing to give up: the greater the social distance to the seller, the less likely a participant would be to purchase MLM products. How MLM sales requests impact social relationships will be discussed.




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