When the Dictator Speaks

It pays to be the dictator, but not as much when you have to explain yourself. James Andreoni and Justin M Rao put a spin on the traditional dictator game in their new experiment: starting with the premise that altruism is a social act, they added the element of “ask and explain” to the game. They found that when the dictator was allowed to explain his actions, only 6 percent of the pool was transferred on average – much lower than the 15 percent average when no communication is allowed. When they introduced the “ask” element, whereby the recipient was allowed to ask for a certain amount, at least 24 percent of the pool was transferred. Asking seems to deter selfish behavior by the dictator, because the player is forced to face his own unfairness and furthermore required to explain themselves (and “sorry” doesn’t cut it, the researchers note). However, “whether communication enhances genuine empathy or merely increases knowledge of the other so that guilt-reducing strategies or self-deception are more costly is not testable with our data.” [%comments]

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  1. Ian Kemmish says:

    Doesn’t that just prove that most people who are inclined to agree to take part in experiments are not temperamentally suited to becoming dictators? And how does the game simulate the “ask and you’ll be sent to a Gulag” feature of real life?

    Framed as a more scientific question: does finding people who are prepared to take part in scientific experiments not in fact already pre-select for altruism?

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  2. Brian S says:

    @ Ian K –

    “Framed as a more scientific question: does finding people who are prepared to take part in scientific experiments not in fact already pre-select for altruism?”

    What if their participation is dictated? ;)

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  3. VB in NV says:

    ASKING?!? EXPLAINING?!?

    Ed Rendell would say this is the wussiest Dictator Game ever.

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  4. Drill-Baby-Drill Drill Team says:

    ABSOLUTE POWER CORRUPTS.
    Even a little sunlight will retard corruption.
    An instantaneous ‘off with their heads’ attitude like Stalin can really keep the subjects on their toes–if they want to keep their toes. I would advocate various graded extremity choppings not limited to the neck.

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  5. Nick says:

    I supposed that the trend would reverse if the dictator was told before the game that the recipient was a criminal and was instructed to tell the recipient that before allowing him/her to ask any questions.

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  6. Fritz Mills says:

    “Because I said so…”

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