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Social preferences: Some simple tests and a new model

  • Gary Charness
  • Matthew Rabin

Departures from pure self interest in economic experiments have recently inspired models of "social preferences". We conduct experiments on simple two-person and three-person games with binary choices that test these theories more directly than the array of games conventionally considered. Our experiments show strong support for the prevalence of "quasi-maximin" preferences: People sacrifice to increase the payoffs for all recipients, but especially for the lowest-payoff recipients. People are also motivated by reciprocity: While people are reluctant to sacrifice to reciprocate good or bad behavior beyond what they would sacrifice for neutral parties, they withdraw willingness to sacrifice to achieve a fair outcome when others are themselves unwilling to sacrifice. Some participants are averse to getting different payoffs than others, but based on our experiments and reinterpretation of previous experiments we argue that behavior that has been presented as "difference aversion" in recent papers is actually a combination of reciprocal and quasi-maximin motivations. We formulate a model in which each player is willing to sacrifice to allocate the quasi-maximin allocation only to those players also believed to be pursuing the quasi-maximin allocation, and may sacrifice to punish unfair players.

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Paper provided by Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra in its series Economics Working Papers with number 441.

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Date of creation: Oct 1999
Date of revision: Jan 2000
Handle: RePEc:upf:upfgen:441
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://www.econ.upf.edu/

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  1. 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.
  2. Robert Gibbons & Leaf Van Boven, 1999. "Contingent Social Utiltiy in the Prisoner's Dilemma," Levine's Working Paper Archive 2105, David K. Levine.
  3. Güth, Werner & Huck, Steffen & Müller, Wieland, 1998. "The relevance of equal splits: On a behavioral discontinuity in ultimatum games," SFB 373 Discussion Papers 1998,7, Humboldt University of Berlin, Interdisciplinary Research Project 373: Quantification and Simulation of Economic Processes.
  4. David K. Levine, 1998. "Modeling Altruism and Spitefulness in Experiment," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 1(3), pages 593-622, July.
  5. Rabin, Matthew, 1997. "Bargaining Structure, Fairness and Efficiency," Department of Economics, Working Paper Series qt35g8s3dd, Department of Economics, Institute for Business and Economic Research, UC Berkeley.
  6. Gary Charness, 1996. "Attribution and reciprocity in a simulated labor market: An experimental investigation," Economics Working Papers 283, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, revised Oct 1997.
  7. Armin Falk & Urs Fischbacher, . "A Theory of Reciprocity," IEW - Working Papers 006, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.
  8. Charness, Gary B & Brandts, Jordi, 1998. "Hot vs. Cold: Sequential Responses and Preference Stability in Experimental Games," University of California at Santa Barbara, Economics Working Paper Series qt4kx7d5pv, Department of Economics, UC Santa Barbara.
  9. Andreoni,J. & Brown,P.M. & Vesterlund,L., 1999. "What makes an allocation fair? : Some experimental evidence," Working papers 4, Wisconsin Madison - Social Systems.
  10. Matthew Rabin., 1992. "Incorporating Fairness into Game Theory and Economics," Economics Working Papers 92-199, University of California at Berkeley.
  11. Dufwenberg, Martin & Kirchsteiger, Georg, 2004. "A theory of sequential reciprocity," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 47(2), pages 268-298, May.
  12. Timothy N. Cason & Vai-Lam Mui, 1998. "Social Influence in the Sequential Dictator Game," Monash Economics Working Papers archive-37, Monash University, Department of Economics.
  13. Offerman, Theo & Sonnemans, Joep & Schram, Arthur, 1996. "Value Orientations, Expectations and Voluntary Contributions in Public Goods," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 106(437), pages 817-45, July.
  14. Brandts, Jordi & Sola, Carles, 2001. "Reference Points and Negative Reciprocity in Simple Sequential Games," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 36(2), pages 138-157, August.
  15. Brit Grosskopf, 2000. "Relative Payoffs and Happiness: An Experimental Study," Econometric Society World Congress 2000 Contributed Papers 1263, Econometric Society.
  16. Jordi Brandts & Gary Charness, 1999. "Retribution in a cheap-talk experiment," Economics Working Papers 437, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra.
  17. Charness, Gary, 2000. "Responsibility and effort in an experimental labor market," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 42(3), pages 375-384, July.
  18. Gary E. Bolton & Axel Ockenfels, 1998. "Strategy and Equity: An ERC Analysis of the Guth-van Damme Game," Levine's Working Paper Archive 2060, David K. Levine.
  19. James Andreoni, 2001. "Giving According to GARP," Theory workshop papers 339, UCLA Department of Economics.
  20. Blount, Sally, 1995. "When Social Outcomes Aren't Fair: The Effect of Causal Attributions on Preferences," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 63(2), pages 131-144, August.
  21. repec:dgr:kubcen:199837 is not listed on IDEAS
  22. repec:dgr:uvatin:19990018 is not listed on IDEAS
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