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Concept: Experimental economics


The strong reciprocity model of the evolution of human cooperation has gained some acceptance, partly on the basis of support from experimental findings. The observation that unfair offers in the ultimatum game are frequently rejected constitutes an important piece of the experimental evidence for strong reciprocity. In the present study, we have challenged the idea that the rejection response in the ultimatum game provides evidence of the assumption held by strong reciprocity theorists that negative reciprocity observed in the ultimatum game is inseparably related to positive reciprocity as the two sides of a preference for fairness. The prediction of an inseparable relationship between positive and negative reciprocity was rejected on the basis of the results of a series of experiments that we conducted using the ultimatum game, the dictator game, the trust game, and the prisoner’s dilemma game. We did not find any correlation between the participants' tendencies to reject unfair offers in the ultimatum game and their tendencies to exhibit various prosocial behaviors in the other games, including their inclinations to positively reciprocate in the trust game. The participants' responses to postexperimental questions add support to the view that the rejection of unfair offers in the ultimatum game is a tacit strategy for avoiding the imposition of an inferior status.

Concepts: Game theory, Hypothesis, The Evolution of Cooperation, Prisoner's dilemma, Dictator game, Ultimatum game, Experimental economics, Reciprocity


Egalitarian motives form a powerful force in promoting prosocial behavior and enabling large-scale cooperation in the human species [1]. At the neural level, there is substantial, albeit correlational, evidence suggesting a link between dopamine and such behavior [2, 3]. However, important questions remain about the specific role of dopamine in setting or modulating behavioral sensitivity to prosocial concerns. Here, using a combination of pharmacological tools and economic games, we provide critical evidence for a causal involvement of dopamine in human egalitarian tendencies. Specifically, using the brain penetrant catechol-O-methyl transferase (COMT) inhibitor tolcapone [4, 5], we investigated the causal relationship between dopaminergic mechanisms and two prosocial concerns at the core of a number of widely used economic games: (1) the extent to which individuals directly value the material payoffs of others, i.e., generosity, and (2) the extent to which they are averse to differences between their own payoffs and those of others, i.e., inequity. We found that dopaminergic augmentation via COMT inhibition increased egalitarian tendencies in participants who played an extended version of the dictator game [6]. Strikingly, computational modeling of choice behavior [7] revealed that tolcapone exerted selective effects on inequity aversion, and not on other computational components such as the extent to which individuals directly value the material payoffs of others. Together, these data shed light on the causal relationship between neurochemical systems and human prosocial behavior and have potential implications for our understanding of the complex array of social impairments accompanying neuropsychiatric disorders involving dopaminergic dysregulation.

Concepts: Psychology, Human, Dopamine, Ultimatum game, Experimental economics, Catechol-O-methyl transferase, Egalitarianism, Inequity aversion


The accumulation of findings that most responders in the ultimatum game reject unfair offers provides evidence that humans are driven by social preferences such as preferences for fairness and prosociality. On the other hand, if and how the proposer’s behavior is affected by social preferences remains unelucidated. We addressed this question for the first time by manipulating the knowledge that the proposer had about the responder’s belief concerning the intentionality of the proposer. In a new game called the “ultimatum game with ambiguous intentions of the proposer (UGAMB),” we made the intentionality of the proposer ambiguous to the recipient. We expected and found that the proposer would make more unfair offers in this new game than in the standard ultimatum game. This expectation can be derived from either the preference-based model or the strategy model of the proposer’s giving decision. The additional finding that more unfair giving in the UGAMB was not mediated by the proposer’s expectation that the recipient would be more willing to accept unfair offers provided support for the preference-based model. Using a psychological measure of cognitive control, the preference-based model received additional support through a conceptual replication of the previous finding that cognitive control of intuitive drive for prosociality in the dictator game, rather than mind reading in the ultimatum game, is responsible for the difference in giving between the two games.

Concepts: Game theory, Psychology, Mind, Thought, Utility, Dictator game, Ultimatum game, Experimental economics


This study examined reward-related decision-making in children and adolescents with ADHD in a social context, using economic games. We furthermore examined the role of individual differences in reward-related decision-making, specifically, the roles of reward sensitivity and prosocial skills. Children and adolescents (9-17 years) with ADHD-combined subtype (n = 29; 20 boys) and healthy controls (n = 38; 20 boys) completed the ultimatum game and dictator game as measures of reward-related decision-making in social contexts. Prosocial skills were measured with the Interpersonal Reactivity Index. The ADHD group had a larger discrepancy between ultimatum game and dictator game offers than controls, indicating strategic rather than fairness driven decisions. This finding was supported by self-reports showing fewer individuals with ADHD than controls who considered fairness as motive for the decisions. Perspective taking or empathic concern did not differ between groups and was not significantly associated with offers. In conclusion, the results suggest that rather than a failure to understand the perspective of others, children and adolescents with ADHD were less motivated by fairness than controls in simple social situations. Results encourage the use of economic games in ADHD research.

Concepts: Game theory, Decision making, Sensitivity and specificity, Social psychology, Dictator game, Ultimatum game, Experimental economics, Subgame perfect equilibrium


The ultimatum game is commonly used to explore fairness in adults in bargaining situations. Although the changes in responses that occur during development have been investigated in children, the results have been mixed. Whereas some studies show that proposers offer more when they grow older, others indicate the opposite. Moreover, these studies are outcome-based and leave intentions out of the scene, although intentions play a relevant role in daily life. The mini-ultimatum game offers the opportunity to test both outcomes and intentions, but one major obstacle for accurately pinpointing developmental transitions in strategic behavior and inequity aversion so far has been the multiple confounds that have plagued previous studies, including different methods, small sample sizes, and reduced age differences. We administered an anonymous direct-method one-shot mini-ultimatum game to 478 6- and 10-year-old children. Strategic behavior was present at 10 years of age; older participants matched more accurately what responders would accept than younger participants. However, this was true only for older girls. No sex differences were detected in younger children. No age group seemed to consider the proposer’s intentions given that the rejections of the default option were not significant across conditions. Both disadvantageous and advantageous inequity aversions were present in 6-year-olds. However, older children exhibited significantly more disadvantageous inequity aversion than younger children. This contrast made the pattern of rejection of 6-year-olds look more similar to the pattern of rejection found in adults. No sex differences were found in responders' behavior.

Concepts: Game theory, Sample size, Sex, Social rejection, Proposal, Ultimatum game, Experimental economics, Inequity aversion


Trustful and trustworthy behaviors have important externalities for the society. But what exactly drives people to behave in a trustful and trustworthy manner? Building on research suggesting that individuals' social preferences might be a common factor informing both behaviors, we study the impact of a set of different motives on individuals' choices in a dual-role Trust Game (TG). We employ data from a large-scale representative experiment (N = 774), where all subjects played both roles of a binary TG with real monetary incentives. Subjects' social motives were inferred using their decisions in a Dictator Game and a dual-role Ultimatum Game. Next to self-interest and strategic motives we consider preferences for altruism, spitefulness, egalitarianism, and efficiency. We demonstrate that there exists considerable heterogeneity in motives in the TG. Most importantly, among individuals who choose to trust as trustors, social motives can differ dramatically as there is a non-negligible proportion of them who seem to act out of (strategic) self-interest whereas others are driven more by efficiency considerations. Subjects' elicited trustworthiness, however, can be used to infer such motivations: while the former are not trustworthy as trustees, the latter are. We discuss that research on trust can benefit from adding the second player’s choice in TG designs.

Concepts: Game theory, Motivation, Choice, Dictator game, Ultimatum game, Experimental economics, Trustworthiness, Inequity aversion


Inequality aversion is a typical form of fairness preferences, which can explain the behaviors in many social exchange situations such as the ultimatum game (UG). There are two kinds of inequality aversion-disadvantageous inequality aversion of responders and advantageous inequality aversion of proposers in the ultimatum game. Although neuroscience research has reported neural correlates of disadvantageous inequality aversion, there are still debates about advantageous inequality aversion of proposers. In this paper, we developed a variant of ultimatum game in which participants played the UG as proposers. On each trial, first, the offer was randomly presented, then, participants as proposers decided whether to choose this offer; next, responders decided whether to accept or not. Offers that responders got 1-20% of the pie are defined as advantageous unfair offers of proposers, whereas offers that responders got 31-50% are defined as fair offers. Event-related brain potentials recorded from the participants showed that more negative-going medial frontal negativity (MFN) was elicited by advantageous unfair offers compared to fair offers in the early time window (250-350ms), which suggested that proposers were averse to advantageous inequality.

Concepts: Game theory, Neuroscience, Event-related potential, Dictator game, Ultimatum game, Experimental economics, Subgame perfect equilibrium, Inequity aversion


Can ideology, as a widespread “expectation creator,” impact economic decisions? In two studies we investigated the influence of the Benevolent Sexism (BS) ideology (which dictates that men should provide for passive and nurtured women) on women’s economic decision-making. In Study 1, using a Dictator Game in which women decided how to share amounts of money with men, results of a Generalized Linear Mixed Model analysis show that higher endorsement of BS and contextual expectations of benevolence were associated with more very unequal offers. Similarly, in an Ultimatum Game in which women received monetary offers from men, Study 2’s Generalized Linear Mixed Model’s results revealed that BS led women to reject more very unequal offers. If women’s endorsement of BS ideology and expectations of benevolence prove contrary to reality, they may strike back at men. These findings show that BS ideology creates expectations that shape male-female relationships in a way that could be prejudicial to men.

Concepts: Game theory, Gender, Economics, Thought, Dictator game, Ultimatum game, Experimental economics, Expectation


Behavior in both the Dictator Game and the Ultimatum Game is of special interest because proposers often violate the predictions of normative economic theory: On average, offers in both games are higher than what would be considered income-maximizing. In the present study, the initial amount provided to the proposer and the social distance between the proposer and the respondent were both varied across a wide range, and the effects of these manipulations on offers in the Dictator Game and the Ultimatum Game were examined in a broad sample of participants recruited via MTurk. Although the amount offered was consistently higher in the Ultimatum Game, the proportion of the amount offered decreased as the size of the initial amount increased in both games. Moreover, the proportion offered also decreased as a function of the social distance between the proposer and the responder. The present results extend our knowledge of the determinants of proposers' behavior in two-person economic games and emphasize the importance of social distance and the amount of money at stake as factors that affect people’s economic decisions.

Concepts: Game theory, Future, Economics, Social sciences, Dictator game, Ultimatum game, Experimental economics, Subgame perfect equilibrium


People react aversely when faced with unfair situations, a phenomenon that has been related to an electroencephalographic (EEG) potential known as medial frontal negativity (MFN). To our knowledge, the existence of the MFN in children has not yet been demonstrated. Here, we recorded EEG activity from 15 children playing the ultimatum game (UG) and who afterward performed a recognition task, in order to assess whether they could recognize the unfair and fair (familiar) proposers among unfamiliar faces. During the recognition task, we also acquired pupil dilation data to investigate subconscious recognition processes. A typical (adult-like) MFN component was detected in reaction to unfair proposals. We found a positive correlation between reaction time and empathy, as well as a negative correlation between reaction time and systematic reasoning scores. Finally, we detected a significant difference in pupil dilation in response to unfamiliar faces versus UG proposers. Our data provide the first evidence of MFN in children, which appears to index similar neurophysiological phenomena as in adults. Also, reaction time to fair proposals seems to be related to individual traits, as represented by empathy and systematizing. Our pupil dilation data provide evidence that automatic responses to faces did not index fairness, but familiarity. These findings have implications for our understanding of social development in typically developing children.

Concepts: Game theory, Electrophysiology, Neuroscience, Cognitive science, Electroencephalography, Knowledge, Experimental economics, Inequity aversion