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Social Preferences: Some Simple Tests and a New Model

  • Author(s): Charness, Gary
  • Rabin, Matthew
  • et al.
Abstract

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 payoff 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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