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Understanding Social Preferences with Simple Tests

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  • Gary Charness
  • Matthew Rabin

Abstract

Departures from self-interest in economic experiments have recently inspired models of "social preferences." We design a range of simple experimental games that test these theories more directly than existing experiments. Our experiments show that subjects are more concerned with increasing social welfare—sacrificing to increase the payoffs for all recipients, especially low-payoff recipients—than with reducing differences in payoffs (as supposed in recent models). Subjects are also motivated by reciprocity: they withdraw willingness to sacrifice to achieve a fair outcome when others are themselves unwilling to sacrifice, and sometimes punish unfair behavior.

Suggested Citation

  • Gary Charness & Matthew Rabin, 2002. "Understanding Social Preferences with Simple Tests," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 117(3), pages 817-869.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:qjecon:v:117:y:2002:i:3:p:817-869.
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    File URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10.1162/003355302760193904
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • A12 - General Economics and Teaching - - General Economics - - - Relation of Economics to Other Disciplines
    • A13 - General Economics and Teaching - - General Economics - - - Relation of Economics to Social Values
    • B49 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - Economic Methodology - - - Other
    • C70 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Game Theory and Bargaining Theory - - - General
    • C91 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Individual Behavior
    • D63 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement

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