Theory and Decision

, Volume 74, Issue 3, pp 357–382 | Cite as

Parameters of social preference functions: measurement and external validity

  • Christoph Graf
  • Rudolf Vetschera
  • Yingchao Zhang


Most of the existing literature on social preferences either tests whether certain characteristics of the social context (like intentions of others) influence individual decisions, or tries to estimate parameters of social preference functions describing such behavior at the level of the entire population. In the present paper, we are concerned with measuring parameters of social preference functions at the individual level. We draw upon concepts developed for eliciting other types of utility functions, in particular the literature on decision making under incomplete information. Our method derives parameters of social preference functions from indifference statements about the distribution of payoffs a group. We apply our method in a controlled social preference experiment to establish the external validity of estimated parameters. Our results show the expected relationships to some external factors (like educational background of subjects) and also a strong correspondence between parameter estimates and factors that, according to the subjects’ own descriptions, influenced their behavior. We also find that some concepts discussed in the literature on social preferences, in particular envy toward players receiving a larger payoff, have very diverse and complex effects at the individual level.


Social preferences Parameter estimation External validity Experiment Indifference values 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christoph Graf
    • 1
  • Rudolf Vetschera
    • 1
  • Yingchao Zhang
    • 1
  1. 1.Faculty of Business, Economics, and StatisticsUniversity of ViennaViennaAustria

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