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Individual Differences in Allocation of Funds in the Dictator Game Associated with Length of the Arginine Vasopressin 1a Receptor (AVPR1a) RS3 Promoter-region and Correlation between RS3 Length and Hippocampal mRNA

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Author Info

  • Ariel Knafo
  • Salomon Israel
  • Ariel Darvasi
  • Rachel Bachner-Melman
  • Florina Uzefovsky
  • Lior Cohen
  • Esti Feldman
  • Elad Lerer
  • Efrat Laiba
  • Yael Raz
  • Lubov Nemanov
  • Inga Gritsenko
  • Christian Dina
  • Galila Agam
  • Brian Dean
  • Gary Bornstein
  • Richard P. Ebstein

Abstract

Human altruism is a widespread phenomenon that puzzled evolutionary biologists since Darwin. Economic games illustrate human altruism by demonstrating that behavior deviates from economic predictions of profit maximization. A game that most plainly demonstrates this altruistic tendency is the Dictator Game. We hypothesized that human altruistic behavior is to some extent hardwired and that a likely candidate that may contribute to individual differences in altruistic behavior is the arginine vasopressin 1a (AVPR1a) receptor that in some mammals such as the vole has a profound impact on affiliative behaviors. In the current investigation, 203 male and female university students played an online version of the Dictator Game, for real money payoffs. All subjects and their parents were genotyped for AVPR1a RS1 & RS3 promoter-region repeat polymorphisms. Parents did not participate in online game playing. Since variation in the length of a repetitive element in the vole AVPR1a promoter region is associated with differences in social behavior we examined the relationship between RS1 and RS3 repeat length (base pairs) and allocation sums. Participants with short versions (308-325 bp) of the AVPR1a RS3 repeat allocated significantly (Likelihood ratio=14.75, p=0.001, DF=2) fewer shekels to the 'other' than participants with long versions (327-343 bp). We also implemented a family-based association test, UNPHASED, to confirm and validate the correlation between the AVPR1a RS3 repeat and monetary allocations in the Dictator Game. Dictator Game allocations were significantly associated with the RS3 repeat (global p value: Likelihood ratio chi-sq = 11.73, DF= 4, p-value = 0.019). The association between the AVPR1a RS3 repeat and altruism was also confirmed using two self-report scales (the Bardi-Schwartz Universalism and Benevolence Value-expressive Behavior Scales). RS3 long alleles were associated with higher scores on both measures. Finally, long AVPR1a RS3 repeats were associated with higher AVPR1a human postmortem hippocampal mRNA levels than short RS3 repeats (One way-ANOVA: F=15.04, p=0.001, DF= 14) suggesting a functional molecular genetic basis for the observation that participants with the long RS3 repeats allocate more money than participants with the short repeats. This is the first investigation showing that a common human polymorphism, with antecedents in lower mammals, contributes to decision making in an economic game. The finding that the same gene contributing to social bonding in lower animals also appears to operate similarly in human behavior suggests a common evolutionary mechanism.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by The Center for the Study of Rationality, Hebrew University, Jerusalem in its series Discussion Paper Series with number dp457.

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Length: 33 pages
Date of creation: Jul 2007
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:huj:dispap:dp457

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  1. Kahneman, Daniel & Knetsch, Jack L & Thaler, Richard H, 1986. "Fairness and the Assumptions of Economics," The Journal of Business, University of Chicago Press, vol. 59(4), pages S285-300, October.
  2. Colin Camerer & Ernst Fehr, 2003. "Measuring social norms and preferences using experimental games: A guide for social scientists," Levine's Working Paper Archive 506439000000000501, David K. Levine.
  3. Forsythe Robert & Horowitz Joel L. & Savin N. E. & Sefton Martin, 1994. "Fairness in Simple Bargaining Experiments," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 6(3), pages 347-369, May.
  4. Gary E Bolton & Axel Ockenfels, 1997. "A Theory of Equity, Reciprocity, and Competition," Levine's Working Paper Archive 1889, David K. Levine.
  5. Gary E. Bolton & Rami Zwick & Elena Katok, 1998. "Dictator game giving: Rules of fairness versus acts of kindness," International Journal of Game Theory, Springer, vol. 27(2), pages 269-299.
  6. Eckel, Catherine C. & Grossman, Philip J., 1996. "Altruism in Anonymous Dictator Games," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 16(2), pages 181-191, October.
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Cited by:
  1. Dreber, Anna & Rand, David G. & Wernerfelt, Nils & Garcia, Justin R. & Lum, J. Koji & Zeckhauser, Richard, 2010. "Dopamine and Risk Choices in Different Domains: Findings among Serious Tournament Bridge Players," Working Paper Series rwp10-034, Harvard University, John F. Kennedy School of Government.

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