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Relative Payoffs And Happiness: An Experimental Study

  • Charness, Gary B
  • Grosskopf, Brit

Some current utility models presume that people are concerned with their relative standing in a reference group. If this is true, do certain types care more about this than others? Using simple binary decisions and self-reported happiness, we investigate both the prevalence of “difference aversion†and whether happiness levels influence the taste for social comparisons. Our decision tasks distinguish between a person’s desire to achieving the social optimum, equality or advantageous relative standing. Most people appear to disregard relative payoffs, instead typically making choices resulting in higher social payoffs. While we do not find a strong general correlation between happiness and concern for relative payoffs, we do observe that a willingness to lower another person’s payoff below one’s own (competitive preferences) seems correlated with unhappiness.

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Paper provided by Department of Economics, UC Santa Barbara in its series University of California at Santa Barbara, Economics Working Paper Series with number qt8389x8z2.

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Date of creation: 01 Jan 2000
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Handle: RePEc:cdl:ucsbec:qt8389x8z2
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  1. Charness, Gary & Rabin, Matthew, 2000. "Social Preferences: Some Simple Tests and a New Model," Department of Economics, Working Paper Series qt46j0d6hb, Department of Economics, Institute for Business and Economic Research, UC Berkeley.
  2. Fehr, Ernst & Schmidt, Klaus M., 1999. "A theory of fairness, competition, and cooperation," Munich Reprints in Economics 20650, University of Munich, Department of Economics.
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  13. Jacobsen, Eva & Abdolkarim Sadrieh, 1996. "Experimental Proof for the Motivational Importance of Reciprocity," Discussion Paper Serie B 386, University of Bonn, Germany.
  14. Selten, Reinhard & Ockenfels, Axel, 1998. "An experimental solidarity game," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 34(4), pages 517-539, March.
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  16. Axel Ockenfels & Gary E. Bolton, 2000. "ERC: A Theory of Equity, Reciprocity, and Competition," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(1), pages 166-193, March.
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