Is This Chemical Why File Sharers Buy More Music?

from the isn't-science-wonderful? dept

One of the great divides in the digital world is between those who believe that people who share files online are selfish, thieving pirates who just want something for nothing, and those who see them simply as ordinary people who want to swap cool stuff with the world. The first group views them as a canker eating at the heart of the music industry, while the second sees them as providing free marketing to the artists concerned. What evidence we have supports the latter view — not least because the music industry is thriving, not dying as you might expect if piracy were a problem.

Of course, the first group continues to ignore such indications, preferring to hang on to their dogmatic belief that people in general are evil. Wouldn’t it be nice if there were some other kind of evidence that those who share are motivated by good, not bad, intentions? Something like this work from the academic Paul Zak, reported in the Guardian recently?

Being treated decently, it turns out, causes people’s oxytocin levels to go up, which in turn prompts them to behave more decently, while experimental subjects given an artificial oxytocin boost — by means of an inhaler — behave more generously and trustingly.

Here’s how that plays out in the world of money:

in experiments, people behave more generously than traditional economic models predict that they should. A classic demonstration of this is known as the Trust Game, in which pairs of participants communicate with each other via computer terminals: they never meet, and have no idea who the other person is. Person A is given £10 [$16], then invited to send a portion of it, electronically, to person B. Person A has a motive for doing so: according to the rules, which both players know about, any money that A sends to B will triple in value, whereupon B will have the option of sending some of it back as a thank-you. According to conventional notions of rational behaviour, the game should break down before it has begun. Person B, acting selfishly, has no reason to give any money back — and, knowing this, person A shouldn’t send any over in the first place.

But that’s not what happens. Instead, 90% of A-people send money anyway, while 95% of B-people send some back. That is, people want to give, they want to spread a little happiness. And those who get something, do feel an almost irresistible urge to give back, which might help to explain why so many people support artists whose music they share: they want to give back to the people that have effectively given to them by making music in the first place.

To which the skeptics would probably respond that even if this were true, not everybody acts this way. And the same research quoted above confirms that view:

“that’s except for the 5% of people who are ‘unconditional non-reciprocators’,” says Zak, referring to the consistent minority of people who seem immune to this cycle. “What we call them in my lab is ‘bastards’.”

These are the leeches, the freeloaders, who take without giving. Nobody denies that they exist, but the key issue is whether you focus on them obsessively, and want politicians to frame ever-harsher laws to punish them (and everyone else as collateral damage), or whether you ignore them, and concentrate on selling to the 95% of file sharers who are “reciprocators” and are only too happy to give back by buying music from the artists they enjoy. If Zak’s results about the power and near-universality of oxytocin’s feedback loop are anything to go by, it’s pretty clear which one is likely to succeed.

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Comments on “Is This Chemical Why File Sharers Buy More Music?”

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Anonymous Coward says:

It’s an interesting possibility.

Another interesting thing about the studies of heavy consumers of digital files is that it correlates just as well to heavy consumers of good old fashioned libraries.

Heavy users buy a lot, they just access more than they buy as very few users (read none) have an infinite supply of money.
IP supporters overreaching and crying out how they cannot compete with free, like to pretend that there is an infinite supply of money and that therefore they lose out when people can access their product without payment, when everybody else can clearly see that they don’t and where any reasonable studies suggest a real, if small benefit to their sales from free access.

Anonymous Coward says:

“According to conventional notions of rational behaviour, the game should break down before it has begun. Person B, acting selfishly, has no reason to give any money back — and, knowing this, person A shouldn’t send any over in the first place.”

I believe it would break down, if Person A had to use money they considered theirs before the start of the experiment.
Promise them x bucks for participating in the experiment, allow x bucks to be sent and see how little they send and how little got sent back then.
If payment happened a day before the experiment, see how many of the people who received the money turned up.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I have taken part in this experiment (in person, not online), in the form you suggest, a number of times. The participant’s behaviors are not significantly different in that respect.

A would be interested in a variant of this, though, where instead of the money being provided by the experimenter it is provided by the participants. So instead of giving away “free money,” they’re actually taking a loss in giving.

My prediction is that you’d still see a very high level of generosity, but not as high as with the free money scenario.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

“So instead of giving away “free money,” they’re actually taking a loss in giving.”

That was pretty much what I was suggesting.

“My prediction is that you’d still see a very high level of generosity, but not as high as with the free money scenario.”

That might depend on how high a percentage of the participants available income the money being given was.

I’d be fascinated to see if your suggestion is true, and wouldn’t it be cool if you were correct.
I’d also be interested in seeing what the rate would be if the people passing the money along were given different stories about the level of income the recipient lived with and equally interested with the amount returned in those cases.
With a deep suspicion that the quantity of the returned money would vary inversely to the income of the returnee.

That’s having worked in retail in the past, where I generally found that people with lower incomes were more likely to pay small debts quickly and without fuss.

Anonymous Coward says:

I will read this out loud and make a rap out of it with Autorap 🙂

Youtube: Autorap – Turn Speech Into Rap! Free app for iOS and Android (Yes I know this is an actual ad, which I am not paid by the way for it, I just found the app funny)

On a serious note though.

There is something sad about the world politics these days.

The BPI guy is trying to defend the censorship tools deployed despite they being innefective in the UK.
Zeropaid: Pirate Bay UK Ban has No Effect on File-Sharing

Explain how putting free speech and other core civil rights at risk, deploying censoring tools that will be abused at some point and are innefective “THE FRAKING RIGHT THING TO DO”!

Now scary is the plans of the Kanguro’s down under, really when you give legal powers for the government to hack you so they can collect whatever evidence they want that seems a recipe for disaster.
Zeropaid: Australian Goverment Mulls Allowing Authorities to Hack Your Computer

Motorola 1 X 0 Apple in Germany.

Apparently the chease eating rodents on the French government believe that punishment is not enough and legal tools should be maximized which probably means more laws with more punishment to be suggested.
Giacom: French anti-piracy chief: ?punishment is not enough?

AdamBv1 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Dr. Caron: “These are just a few of the images we’ve recorded. And you can see, it wasn’t what we thought. There’s been no war here and no terraforming event. The environment is stable. It’s the Pax. The G-23 Paxilon Hydrochlorate that we added to the air processors. It was supposed to calm the population, weed out aggression. Well, it works. The people here stopped fighting. And then they stopped everything else. They stopped going to work, they stopped breeding, talking, eating. There’s 30 million people here, and they all just let themselves die.”

Might want to watch Serenity.

AB says:

Re: 5%?

Basic psychology says that people project a distorted reflection of themselves onto those around them. Thus a person who would willingly stab an enemy in the back will spend way more time watching their own back then someone who’s ethics would prevent them from such behavior. Likewise freeloading bastards will assume everyone else is stealing from them.

In other words, yes. Very much so.

Anonymous Coward says:

No, it isn't

The problem with the implications of Paul Zak’s research — which he almost always conveniently forgets to mention — is that the quantity of oxytocin he uses in his experiments far exceeds that which the human brain will produce and retain naturally. The substance breaks down too quickly for it to build up to the levels he needs for his experiments to work and the brain simply doesn’t produce anywhere remotely near enough to get these effects on its own. He used smaller (and more realistic) amounts in earlier studies, but found that smaller quantities did not produce interesting results.

In short, no, oxytocin is not why file sharers buy more music. This site, among others, has offered plenty of plausible explanations, but this chemical is definitely not one of them.

lolzzzzz says:


give me MOOOOR
and ill add so your solution is to starve the body of such drugs and when you have guys like me that barely dl much music then what its got to be another drug and so on , until eventually you r has tubes on da internets and tubes form the mpaa in your arm …wait dont most of them be drug addicts anyways?

Anonymous Coward says:

You seem to be going a long way to try to justify bad acts. Not very well either, I am afraid.

What you seemed to miss in the research is that the players both knew the rules of the game, and the limited amount of money could be significantly larger if shared. There was a solid motivation for the first player to share the money, they are likely to get more back (in a fair world), and there is plenty of motivation for player B to share back (because without the first player, he would have no money at all).

The author also didn’t seem to want to mention that subjects would likely act differently if they were not aware of being monitored, or not knowing it’s a test.

All of this doesn’t justify piracy in the least. It seems like a desperate attempt to explain why super fans don’t buy as much music and movies as before.

Anonymous Coward says:

When I was younger, I had a huge CD collection. Two or three leather cases full of them. I went to college and my roommate showed me Napster. I wasn’t that impressed. The songs were generally low quality rips with something missing.

Then the music industry started suing people in order to scare the rest of us. I haven’t bought a CD since and probably never will again.

Right now I occasionally use the internet to watch a show that I missed. It’s easier than digging the DVR out of the closet, but I may if I had too. Other industries should learn from the music industry’s mistakes and not make enemies of your fans and customers.

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