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Risk versus social preferences under the veil of ignorance


  • Frignani, Nicola
  • Ponti, Giovanni


This paper reports experimental evidence from Dictator Game experiments in which subjects choose repeatedly one out of four options involving a pair of monetary prizes, one for them, one for another anonymously matched participant. In some sessions, there is no uncertainty about the player position (i.e., the identity of the best paid agent, constant across all options); in other sessions subjects choose “under the veil of ignorance”, not knowing in advance to which player position they will be eventually assigned, but only that either possibility is equally likely. Finally, we also collect evidence from additional sessions in which the same options correspond to binary lotteries, in which subjects may win the high or the low prize with equal probability, but their decisions do not affect other participants. We frame subjects’ decisions within the realm of a simple mean-variance utility maximization problem, in which the parameter associated to the variance is interpreted, depending on the treatment, as a measure of pure risk aversion, pure inequality aversion, or some combination of the two. Our estimates suggest that we can simply rely on risk aversion to explain subjects’ behavior under the veil of ignorance.

Suggested Citation

  • Frignani, Nicola & Ponti, Giovanni, 2012. "Risk versus social preferences under the veil of ignorance," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 116(2), pages 143-146.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:ecolet:v:116:y:2012:i:2:p:143-146 DOI: 10.1016/j.econlet.2012.02.002

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Ernst Fehr & Klaus M. Schmidt, 1999. "A Theory of Fairness, Competition, and Cooperation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 114(3), pages 817-868.
    2. Steffen Andersen & Glenn W. Harrison & Morten I. Lau & E. Elisabet Rutström, 2008. "Eliciting Risk and Time Preferences," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 76(3), pages 583-618, May.
    3. Antonio Cabrales & Raffaele Miniaci & Marco Piovesan & Giovanni Ponti, 2010. "Social Preferences and Strategic Uncertainty: An Experiment on Markets and Contracts," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 100(5), pages 2261-2278, December.
    4. Urs Fischbacher, 2007. "z-Tree: Zurich toolbox for ready-made economic experiments," Experimental Economics, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 10(2), pages 171-178, June.
    5. Fredrik Carlsson & Dinky Daruvala & Olof Johansson-Stenman, 2005. "Are People Inequality-Averse, or Just Risk-Averse?," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 72(3), pages 375-396, August.
    6. Glenn W. Harrison & Tanga McDaniel, 2008. "Voting games and computational complexity," Oxford Economic Papers, Oxford University Press, vol. 60(3), pages 546-565, July.
    7. Amiel, Yoram & Creedy, John & Hurn, Stan, 1999. " Measuring Attitudes towards Inequality," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 101(1), pages 83-96, March.
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    Cited by:

    1. John Bone & Paolo Crosetto & John D Hey & Carmen Pasca, 2013. "Chance versus choice: eliciting attitudes to fair compensations," Discussion Papers 13/15, Department of Economics, University of York.
    2. Christoph Engel & Sebastian Goerg, 2015. "If the Worst Comes to the Worst. Dictator Giving When Recipient’s Endowments are Risky," Discussion Paper Series of the Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods 2015_15, Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods.
    3. repec:eee:jeborg:v:142:y:2017:i:c:p:24-31 is not listed on IDEAS

    More about this item


    Dictator games; Social preferences; Risk preferences; Functional identification;

    JEL classification:

    • D86 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Economics of Contract Law


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