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Concept: Ultimatum game


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


How does one deal with unfair behaviors? This subject has long been investigated by various disciplines including philosophy, psychology, economics, and biology. However, our reactions to unfairness differ from one individual to another. Experimental economics studies using the ultimatum game (UG), in which players must decide whether to accept or reject fair or unfair offers, have also shown that there are substantial individual differences in reaction to unfairness. However, little is known about psychological as well as neurobiological mechanisms of this observation. We combined a molecular imaging technique, an economics game, and a personality inventory to elucidate the neurobiological mechanism of heterogeneous reactions to unfairness. Contrary to the common belief that aggressive personalities (impulsivity or hostility) are related to the high rejection rate of unfair offers in UG, we found that individuals with apparently peaceful personalities (straightforwardness and trust) rejected more often and were engaged in personally costly forms of retaliation. Furthermore, individuals with a low level of serotonin transporters in the dorsal raphe nucleus (DRN) are honest and trustful, and thus cannot tolerate unfairness, being candid in expressing their frustrations. In other words, higher central serotonin transmission might allow us to behave adroitly and opportunistically, being good at playing games while pursuing self-interest. We provide unique neurobiological evidence to account for individual differences of reaction to unfairness.

Concepts: Game theory, Psychology, Person, Serotonin, Social rejection, Individualism, Ultimatum game, Raphe nuclei


The ultimatum bargaining game (UBG), a widely used method in experimental economics, clearly demonstrates that motives other than pure monetary reward play a role in human economic decision making. In this study, we explore the behaviour and physiological reactions of both responders and proposers in an ultimatum bargaining game using heart rate variability (HRV), a small and nonintrusive technology that allows observation of both sides of an interaction in a normal experimental economics laboratory environment. We find that low offers by a proposer cause signs of mental stress in both the proposer and the responder; that is, both exhibit high ratios of low to high frequency activity in the HRV spectrum.

Concepts: Game theory, Decision making, Economics, Decision theory, Experiment, Hypothesis, Ultimatum game, Money


We exploit the fact that generosity and trustworthiness are highly correlated and the former can thus be a sign of the latter. Subjects decide between a generous and a mean split in a dictator game. Some of them are informed from the start that afterwards they will participate in a trust game and that their choice in the dictator game may matter; others are not informed in advance. In the trust game, before trusters decide whether or not to trust, some trustees can reveal (or conceal) only their true choice in the dictator game, while others can say to trusters, truthfully or otherwise, what they chose. We find that a generous choice made naturally by uninformed trustees and reliably revealed is more effective in persuading trusters to trust than a generous choice that could be strategic or a lie. Moreover, we find that, when they can, mean subjects lie and go on to be untrustworthy.

Concepts: Game theory, Virtue, Social psychology, Dictator game, Ultimatum game


Subjects in the loss domain tend to split payoffs equally when bargaining. The ultimatum game offers an ideal mechanism through which social scientists can investigate whether equal splits are the consequence of the proposers' generosity or due to their anticipation that the responders will reject lower offers. This paper experimentally compares ultimatum bargaining that takes place in a loss domain with that under a gains domain. The results reveal that, although responders do not expect more in the loss domain, proposers do make higher offers. As such, proposers reach agreements more often in the loss domain than they do in the gains domain, and responders receive higher payoffs.

Concepts: Game theory, Economics, Science, 2006 albums, The Loss, Ultimatum game, Debut albums, Split


We consider the evolution of fairness and coalition formation in a three-person ultimatum game in which the coalition value depends on its size. Traditional game theory, which assumes selfish and rational players, predicts the largest and efficient coalition with a proposer exploiting most of the total value. In a stochastic evolutionary model (the frequency-dependent Moran process with mutations) where players make errors in estimating the payoffs and strategies of others, evolutionary selection favors the formation of a two-person subcoalition under weak selection and in the low mutation limit if and only if its coalition value exceeds a high proportion (0.7) of that of the largest coalition. Proposers offer 30% to 35% of the subcoalition value to a coalition member, excluding a non-member. Multilateral bargaining is critically different from the bilateral one. Coalition-forming behavior may cause economic inefficiency and social exclusion. Stochastic evolutionary game theory thus provides theoretical support to explain the behavior of human subjects in economic experiments of a three-person ultimatum game.

Concepts: Game theory, Natural selection, Evolution, Economics, Theory, Ultimatum game, Evolutionarily stable strategy, Evolutionary game theory


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