Establishing the Macrobehavior of Ethical Self-Control in an Arrangement of Macrocontingencies in two Microcultures

Aecio Borba, Emmanuel Zagury Tourinho, Sigrid S. Glenn


A particular type of self-control is exercised when the conflict between immediate and delayed consequences is associated with consequences that are more favorable either for the individual or for the group. In such cases, responding under the control of delayed consequences that are favorable for the group is characteristic of ethical self-control. This study investigated the selection, maintenance and transmission of ethical self-control in an arrangement depicting a macrocontingency. Participants in two microcultures were exposed to an ABAB design in which individuals repeatedly chose a row in a colored 10 x 10 matrix. In all conditions, choosing odd-numbered rows produced three tokens that could be exchanged for money, and choosing even-numbered rows produced only one token. In B conditions, even row responses had a second effect, which was to add one item to a cumulative effect comprising school items to be donated later to a public school. Thus, in B conditions, choosing an even row exemplified ethical self control. Microcultures comprised 16-18 generations of three participants as one participant was replaced after every 20th cycle. The results demonstrated the effectiveness of cumulative effect in the implementation and maintenance of ethical self-control responses, but only after a long exposure to the macrocontingency. The change in participants across generations may have also contributed to a longer exposure to the contingencies being required for the selection of ethical self-control responses.


macrocontingencies, laboratory microcultures, ethical self-control

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