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Relative versus absolute income, joy of winning, and gender: Brain imaging evidence

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Author Info

  • Dohmen, Thomas
  • Falk, Armin
  • Fliessbach, Klaus
  • Sunde, Uwe
  • Weber, Bernd

Abstract

In this paper we study the role of absolute versus relative income using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). While being scanned in two adjacent MRI scanners, pairs of subjects had to simultaneously perform a simple estimation task that entailed monetary rewards for correct answers. We show that a variation in the comparison subject's payment affects blood oxygenation level-dependent (BOLD) responses in the ventral striatum. This brain region is engaged in the prediction and registration of primary rewards such as food delivery as well as more abstract forms of rewards like money. In particular, we show that activation in the ventral striatum increases in absolute income and – for a given level of absolute income – decreases in lower relative income. Using a male and a female sample allows us to study whether the perception of relative and absolute incomes is gender specific. We find that the effects of absolute and relative incomes are strong and relatively similar for both genders. Finally, we analyze the importance of “joy of winning”, i.e., the impact of outperforming another subject. Our results suggest that the mere fact of outperforming the other subject positively affects reward related brain areas.

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Bibliographic Info

Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Journal of Public Economics.

Volume (Year): 95 (2011)
Issue (Month): 3 ()
Pages: 279-285

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Handle: RePEc:eee:pubeco:v:95:y:2011:i:3:p:279-285

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Web page: http://www.elsevier.com/locate/inca/505578

Related research

Keywords: Relative income; Joy of winning; Gender; fMRI; Neuroeconomics; Welfare economics;

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References

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  1. Muriel Niederle & Lise Vesterlund, 2005. "Do Women Shy Away From Competition? Do Men Compete Too Much?," NBER Working Papers 11474, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Clark, Andrew E. & Frijters, Paul & Shields, Michael A., 2007. "Relative Income, Happiness and Utility: An Explanation for the Easterlin Paradox and Other Puzzles," IZA Discussion Papers 2840, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  3. Easterlin, Richard A, 2001. "Income and Happiness: Towards an Unified Theory," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 111(473), pages 465-84, July.
  4. Olof Johansson-Stenman & Fredrik Carlsson & Dinky Daruvala, 2002. "Measuring Future Grandparents" Preferences for Equality and Relative Standing," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 112(479), pages 362-383, April.
  5. Benny Moldovanu & Aner Sela & Xianwen Shi, 2007. "Contests for Status," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 115, pages 338-363.
  6. Boskin, Michael J & Sheshinski, Eytan, 1978. "Optimal Redistributive Taxation when Individual Welfare Depends upon Relative Income," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 92(4), pages 589-601, November.
  7. Neumark, David & Postlewaite, Andrew, 1998. "Relative income concerns and the rise in married women's employment," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 70(1), pages 157-183, October.
  8. Uri Gneezy & Muriel Niederle & Aldo Rustichini, 2003. "Performance In Competitive Environments: Gender Differences," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 118(3), pages 1049-1074, August.
  9. Clark, Andrew E. & Oswald, Andrew J., 1996. "Satisfaction and comparison income," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 61(3), pages 359-381, September.
  10. Jehiel, Philippe & Moldovanu, Benny & Stacchetti, Ennio, 1996. "How (Not) to Sell Nuclear Weapons," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 86(4), pages 814-29, September.
  11. Armin Falk & Andrea Ichino, 2006. "Clean Evidence on Peer Effects," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 24(1), pages 39-58, January.
  12. Kräkel, Matthias, 2008. "Emotions in tournaments," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 67(1), pages 204-214, July.
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Cited by:
  1. Aronsson, Thomas & Johansson-Stenman, Olof, 2012. "When Samuelson Met Veblen Abroad: National and Global Public Good Provision when Social Comparisons Matter," UmeÃ¥ Economic Studies 843, Umeå University, Department of Economics.
  2. Thomas Aronsson & Olof Johansson-Stenman, 2013. "Veblen’s theory of the leisure class revisited: implications for optimal income taxation," Social Choice and Welfare, Springer, vol. 41(3), pages 551-578, September.
  3. Alpaslan Akay & Olivier Bargain & Klaus F. Zimmermann, 2014. "Home Sweet Home? Macroeconomic Conditions in Home Countries and the Well-Being of Migrants," Working Papers halshs-00967337, HAL.
  4. Julie Beugnot & Bernard Fortin & Guy Lacroix & Marie Claire Villeval, 2013. "Social Networks and Peer Effects at Work," Working Papers halshs-00855047, HAL.
  5. Tim Friehe & Mario Mechtel, 2012. "Conspicuous Consumption and Communism: Evidence from East and West Germany," CESifo Working Paper Series 3922, CESifo Group Munich.
  6. Aronsson, Thomas & Johansson-Stenman, olof, 2013. "State-Variable Public Goods and Social Comparisons over Time," Working Papers in Economics 555, University of Gothenburg, Department of Economics.
  7. Mario Mechtel & Tim Friehe, 2014. "Gambling to Leapfrog in Status?," IAAEU Discussion Papers 201404, Institute of Labour Law and Industrial Relations in the European Union (IAAEU).
  8. Florian Baumann & Tim Friehe, 2013. "Status Concerns as a Motive for Crime?," CESifo Working Paper Series 4225, CESifo Group Munich.
  9. Aronsson, Thomas & Johansson-Stenman, Olof, 2013. "Publicly Provided Private Goods and Optimal Taxation when Consumers Have Positional Preferences," Working Papers in Economics 558, University of Gothenburg, Department of Economics.
  10. Dato, Simon & Nieken, Petra, 2013. "Gender Differences in Competition and Sabotage," Annual Conference 2013 (Duesseldorf): Competition Policy and Regulation in a Global Economic Order 79750, Verein für Socialpolitik / German Economic Association.

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