Theory and Decision

, Volume 48, Issue 2, pp 151-177

First online:

Ultimatum decision-making: A test of reciprocal kindness

  • David L. DickinsonAffiliated withDepartment of Economics, Utah State University

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While fairness is often mentioned as a determinant of ultimatum bargaining behavior, few data sets are available that can test theories that incorporate fairness considerations. This paper tests the reciprocal kindness theory in Rabin (1993 Incorporating fairness into game theory and economics, The American Economic Review 83: 1281-1302) as an application to the one-period ultimatum bargaining game. We report on data from 100 ultimatum games that vary the financial stakes of the game from $1 to $15. Responder behavior is strongly in support of the kindness theory and proposer behavior weakly in support of it. Offer percentages and past offers influence behavior the most, whereas the size of the pie has a marginally significant effect on offer percentages. The data is more in support of reciprocal kindness than alternative theories of equal-split or learning behavior, although the data also weakly support a minimum percentage threshold hypothesis. As a whole, our results together with existing studies suggest that, for smaller stakes games, fairness considerations dominate monetary considerations. This has implications for more complicated naturally occurring bargaining environments in which the financial stakes can vary widely.

Experiments Fairness Reciprocity Ultimatum Bargaining