Simple Heuristics in a Social Game

Ralph Hertwig, Urs Fischbacher and Adrian Bruhin

in Simple Heuristics in a Social World

Published in print November 2012 | ISBN: 9780195388435
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780199950089 | DOI:

Series: Evolution and Cognition Series

Simple Heuristics in a Social Game

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The dominant behavior observed in social games such as the ultimatum game, the dictator game, and public good games violates the classical assumption in economics of purely selfish preferences. To account for this behavior, economists have proposed social preference models, which introduce nonselfish motives as additional arguments and parameters in the utility function. Like classical utility models, social preference models focus on behavior at the expense of describing underlying cognitive processes, contenting themselves with being “as-if” models. This approach unnecessarily limits the models' psychological realism and forgoes the empirical benefits of describing the processes that produce behavioral outcomes. As an alternative, the chapter proposes fast and frugal classification trees. Designed to describe deliberations and decisions in the mini-ultimatum game, the trees spell out the possible cognitive processes of four distinct types of respondents. The chapter derives response-time predictions from these trees as well as from a process interpretation of an influential social preference model, the Fehr and Schmidt model of inequity aversion, and test the predictions empirically. The observed response times suggest that a substantial proportion of respondents in the mini-ultimatum game take several distinct social considerations into account and process them sequentially, consistent with the proposed classification trees. The chapter discusses the implications of these findings for theories of economic behavior.

Keywords: economic games; ultimatum game; social preference models; fast and frugal classification trees; heterogeneity; response time; as-if models; psychological realism; kindness; social status

Chapter.  10758 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Social Psychology

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