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Do Participants and Observers Assess Intentions Differently During Bargaining and Conflict?


  • Eric S. Dickson

    () (Department of Politics, New York University)


Political actors in settings of bargaining and conflict often find themselves uncertain about the motives of their counterparts. This paper explores the psychology of motive assessment using a novel experimental design involving imperfect-information versions of the ultimatum and dictator bargaining games. Subjects are randomly assigned to one of three roles { the traditional proposer and recipient roles in these games, and a novel impartial observer role. Recipients and observers are given identical, but ambiguous, information about proposers' offers, and make post-play assessments of proposers' intentions that are rewarded based on accuracy. When uncertainty is sufficiently high, recipients' assessments of proposers' intentions are significantly lower than observers' assessments in the ultimatum game, in stark contrast to Bayesian predictions, but there is no evidence of any difference in the dictator game. The results suggest that individuals' perceptions can be directly affected by the set of strategic alternatives they possess, independent of access to information. One interpretation is that the power to accept or reject may prime individuals to be more critical or negative in forming assessments than they otherwise would be. If correct, this interpretation has important implications for theories of bargaining and con?ict, and for the design of institutions for conflict resolution.

Suggested Citation

  • Eric S. Dickson, 2007. "Do Participants and Observers Assess Intentions Differently During Bargaining and Conflict?," Working Papers 0023, New York University, Center for Experimental Social Science.
  • Handle: RePEc:cso:wpaper:0023

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    More about this item


    Role-dependent Beliefs; Imperfect Information; Ultimatum Game; Dictator Game;

    JEL classification:

    • C91 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Individual Behavior
    • D81 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Criteria for Decision-Making under Risk and Uncertainty
    • D82 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Asymmetric and Private Information; Mechanism Design
    • D83 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Search; Learning; Information and Knowledge; Communication; Belief; Unawareness
    • C78 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Game Theory and Bargaining Theory - - - Bargaining Theory; Matching Theory

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