Experimental Economics

, Volume 11, Issue 2, pp 122–133 | Cite as

Dictator game giving: altruism or artefact?

  • Nicholas Bardsley


Experimental dictator games have been used to explore unselfish behaviour. Evidence is presented here, however, that subjects’ generosity can be reversed by allowing them to take a partner’s money. Dictator game giving therefore does not reveal concern for consequences to others existing independently of the environment, as posited in rational choice theory. It may instead be an artefact of experimentation. Alternatively, evaluations of options depend on the composition of the choice set. Implications of these possibilities are explored for experimental methodology and charitable donations respectively. The data favour the artefact interpretation, suggesting that demand characteristics of experimental protocols merit investigation, and that economic analysis should not exclude context-specific social norms.


Altruism Artificiality Experiments Methodology 


C91 C70 D63 D64 


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Copyright information

© Economic Science Association 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.National Centre for Research MethodsUniversity of SouthamptonSouthamptonUK

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