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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Distinguishing Social Preferences from Preferences for Altruism

  • Author(s): Fisman, Raymond
  • Kariv, Shachar
  • Markovitz, Daniel
  • et al.

We report a laboratory experiment that enables us to distinguish preferences for altruism (concerning trade-offs between own payoffs and the payoffs of others) from social preferences (concerning trade-offs between the payoffs of others). By using graphical representations of three-person Dictator Games that vary the relative prices of giving,we generate a very rich data set well-suited to studying behavior at the level of the individual subject. We attempt to recover subjects’underlying preferences by estimating a constant elasticity of substitution (CES) model that represents altruistic and social preferences. We find that both social preferences and preferences for altruism are highly heterogeneous, ranging from utilitarian to Rawlsian. In spite of this heterogeneity across subjects, there exists a strong positive within subject correlation between the efficiency-equity trade-offs made in altruistic and social preferences.

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