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?
Why do some people believe that life is a zero-sum game and that if you harm someone, you will benefit?
3$\begingroup$ 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... $\endgroup$– Nick StaunerApr 28, 2014 at 21:19
1$\begingroup$ Yes, Yochelson and Samenow's famous work on the psychology of criminals found this belief to be comparatively common among the offenders they studied. $\endgroup$– CodeswitcherApr 29, 2014 at 3:49
$\begingroup$ @Nick Stauner, I don't think this belief has something to do with pragmatism. $\endgroup$– user626528May 8, 2014 at 17:51
1$\begingroup$ @Nick Stauner, looks like affirming the consequent $\endgroup$– user626528May 8, 2014 at 18:14
1$\begingroup$ Looks like the basis of a good answer to your own question ;) $\endgroup$– Nick StaunerMay 8, 2014 at 18:26
There is definitely more than one aspect to this question. One of them is if there is a certain type of person that views life as a zero-sum game. What I looked into is if there is a certain type of person that actually gains something from hurting others. There seems to be: The everyday sadist. Buckels, Jones and Paulhus (2013) mean that there is a sadist personality type that is expressed in everyday life. (See: http://pss.sagepub.com/content/24/11/2201 and http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/news/releases/everyday-sadists-take-pleasure-in-others-pain.html for an article summing up the scientific article). These researchers have been looking into traits that they call the "Dark Triad". "When aggression was easy, sadism and Dark Triad measures predicted unprovoked aggression. However, only sadists were willing to work for the opportunity to hurt an innocent person." People strong in this trait would probably feel affirmed by a world view that enables them to fund pleasure with a rationale behind it. This answer is inadequate as a complete response to your question. Something I'd like to look into further is the Just World hypothesis, where the belief that the world should mete our justice leads us to act in a certain way.
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
$\begingroup$ 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. $\endgroup$ Apr 30, 2014 at 21:00