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Testing game theory without the social preference confound


  • Michał Krawczyk

    () (University of Warsaw, Faculty of Economic Sciences)

  • Fabrice Le Lec

    () (Catholic University of Lille, Lille Economie & Management UMR CNRS 8179)


We propose an experimental method whose purpose is to induce selfish behavior in games for a broad class of social preferences. It provides a theoretical framework for testing game theoretical predictions by confronting subjects with a commonly known payoff matrix actually representing their preferences. The paper describes the empirical tests of this method based on the comparison of results from several popular experimental games played with and without our methodology. Apart from it being a test of validity of the method, our experiment helps answer the question of how useful social preferences could be in explaining commonly observed deviations from selfish rationality. Results suggest that our method does induce more selfish behaviors: a substantial part of the difference between predictions based on selfishness and observed behaviors seems indeed driven by such preferences. But they also indicate that a considerable share is left untouched, perhaps giving weight to alternative explanations.

Suggested Citation

  • Michał Krawczyk & Fabrice Le Lec, 2012. "Testing game theory without the social preference confound," Working Papers 2012-06, Faculty of Economic Sciences, University of Warsaw.
  • Handle: RePEc:war:wpaper:2012-06

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. 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.
    2. James Andreoni & Emily Blanchard, 2006. "Testing subgame perfection apart from fairness in ultimatum games," Experimental Economics, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 9(4), pages 307-321, December.
    3. Ernst Fehr & Klaus M. Schmidt, 1999. "A Theory of Fairness, Competition, and Cooperation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 114(3), pages 817-868.
    4. Michal Krawczyk, 2011. "A model of procedural and distributive fairness," Theory and Decision, Springer, vol. 70(1), pages 111-128, January.
    5. Cox, James C. & Friedman, Daniel & Gjerstad, Steven, 2007. "A tractable model of reciprocity and fairness," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 59(1), pages 17-45, April.
    6. Greiner, Ben, 2004. "An Online Recruitment System for Economic Experiments," MPRA Paper 13513, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    7. Trautmann, Stefan T., 2009. "A tractable model of process fairness under risk," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 30(5), pages 803-813, October.
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    More about this item


    social preference; experimental game theory; ultimatum game; public goods game; trust game; prisoner's dilemma; dictator game;

    JEL classification:

    • A13 - General Economics and Teaching - - General Economics - - - Relation of Economics to Social Values
    • C65 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Mathematical Methods; Programming Models; Mathematical and Simulation Modeling - - - Miscellaneous Mathematical Tools
    • C72 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Game Theory and Bargaining Theory - - - Noncooperative Games
    • D63 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement
    • D03 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Behavioral Microeconomics: Underlying Principles

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