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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]