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Fair and unfair punishers coexist in the Ultimatum Game


  • Pablo Branas-Garza

    (Business School, Middlesex University London)

  • Antonio M. Espin

    (GLOBE,Universidad de Granada
    Departamento de Teoría e Historia Económica, Universidad de Granada)

  • Benedikt Herrmann

    (Behavioural Economics Team, Institute for Health and Consumer Protection, Joint Research Centre, European Commission)


Fairness norms are crucial in understanding the emergence and enforcement of large-scale cooperation in human societies. The most widely applied framework in the study of human fairness is the Ultimatum Game (UG). In the UG, a proposer suggests how to split a sum of money with a responder. If the responder rejects the proposer’s offer, both players get nothing. Rejection of unfair offers is considered to be a form of punishment implemented by fair-minded individuals, who are willing to sacrifice their own resources in order to impose the fairness norm. However, an alternative interpretation is equally plausible: punishers might actually be using rejections in a competitive, spiteful fashion as a means to increase their relative standing. This hypothesis is in line with recent evidence demonstrating that “prosocial” and “antisocial” punishers coexist in other experimental games. Using two large-scale experiments, we explore the nature of UG punishers by analyzing their behavior in a Dictator Game. In both studies, we confirm the coexistence of two entirely different sub-populations: prosocial punishers, who behave fairly as dictators, and spiteful (antisocial) punishers, who are totally unfair. Such a result is fundamental for research on the foundations of punishment behavior employing the UG. We discuss how focusing only on the fairness-oriented part of human behavior might give rise to misleading conclusions regarding the evolution of cooperation and the behavioral underpinnings of stable social systems.

Suggested Citation

  • Pablo Branas-Garza & Antonio M. Espin & Benedikt Herrmann, 2014. "Fair and unfair punishers coexist in the Ultimatum Game," SEET Working Papers 2014-02, BELIS, Istanbul Bilgi University.
  • Handle: RePEc:beb:wpseet:201402

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Mitzkewitz, Michael & Nagel, Rosemarie, 1993. "Experimental Results on Ultimatum Games with Incomplete Information," International Journal of Game Theory, Springer;Game Theory Society, vol. 22(2), pages 171-198.
    2. 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.
    3. Catherine Eckel & Philip Grossman, 2000. "Volunteers and Pseudo-Volunteers: The Effect of Recruitment Method in Dictator Experiments," Experimental Economics, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 3(2), pages 107-120, October.
    4. Filippos Exadaktylos & Antonio M. Espin & Pablo Branas-Garza, 2012. "Experimental Subjects are Not Different," Working Papers 12-11, Chapman University, Economic Science Institute.
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    Cited by:

    1. Antonio M. Espin & Angel Sanchez & Benedikt Herrmann, 2017. "Economic preferences 2.0: Connecting competition, cooperation and inter-temporal preferences," Discussion Papers 2017-04, The Centre for Decision Research and Experimental Economics, School of Economics, University of Nottingham.
    2. Brice Corgnet & Antonio M. Espín & Roberto Hernán-González, 2015. "The cognitive basis of social behavior: cognitive reflection overrides antisocial but not always prosocial motives," Working Papers 15-04, Chapman University, Economic Science Institute.
    3. Valerio Capraro & Brice Corgnet & Antonio M. Espin & Roberto Hernan-Gonzalez, 2016. "Deliberation favors social efficiency by helping people disregard their relative shares: Evidence from US and India," Discussion Papers 2016-06, The Centre for Decision Research and Experimental Economics, School of Economics, University of Nottingham.
    4. Brañas-Garza, Pablo & Espín, Antonio M. & Lenkei, Balint, 2015. "BMI is not related to altruism, fairness, trust or reciprocity: Experimental evidence from the field and the lab," MPRA Paper 68184, University Library of Munich, Germany.

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