Experimental Economics

, Volume 19, Issue 3, pp 562–576 | Cite as

Keeping others in our mind or in our heart? Distribution games under cognitive load

  • Karen Evelyn Hauge
  • Kjell Arne Brekke
  • Lars-Olof Johansson
  • Olof Johansson-Stenman
  • Henrik Svedsäter
Original Paper


It has recently been argued that giving is spontaneous while greed is calculated (Rand et al., in Nature 489:427–430, 2012). If greed is calculated we would expect that cognitive load, which is assumed to reduce the influence of cognitive processes, should affect greed. In this paper we study both charitable giving and the behavior of dictators under high and low cognitive load to test if greed is affected by the load. This is tested in three different dictator game experiments. In the dictator games we use both a give frame, where the dictators are given an amount that they may share with a partner, and a take frame, where dictators may take from an amount initially allocated to the partner. The results from all three experiments show that the behavioral effect in terms of allocated money of the induced load is small if at all existent. At the same time, follow-up questions indicate that the subjects’ decisions are more impulsive and less driven by their thoughts under cognitive load.


Dictator game Charity game Lab experiment Cognitive load 



Financial support is gratefully acknowledged from the Norwegian Research Council (grant no. 164393), the Swedish Research Council (ref 421-2010-1420) and the Ethics programme at the University of Oslo. Hauge and Brekke are associated with CREE - the Oslo Centre for Research on Environmentally Friendly Energy - which is supported by the Research Council of Norway. Brekke also acknowledges the support of the Centre for Equality, Social Organization and Performance (ESOP). Svedsäter acknowledges his latest academic affiliations, London Business School and the Department of Psychology at the University of Gothenburg. We are grateful for valuable comments from the editor (Jacob Goeree) and in particular two anonymous referees. Thanks to Tore Ellingsen and Magnus Johannesson for good discussions on the design, to Erik Mohlin and Robert Östling for practical help in conducting experiment 1, to Kristine Korneliussen for practical help in conducting experiment 2, and to Isak Barbopoulos for practical help in conducting experiment 3.

Supplementary material

10683_2015_9454_MOESM1_ESM.docx (23 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 22 kb)


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Copyright information

© Economic Science Association 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Ragnar Frisch Centre for Economic ResearchOsloNorway
  2. 2.Department of EconomicsUniversity of OsloOsloNorway
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyUniversity of GothenburgGöteborgSweden
  4. 4.Departement of Economics, School of Business, Economics and LawUniversity of GothenburgGöteborgSweden
  5. 5.Glaxo Smith KlineUxbridgeUK

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