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On the emergence of minority disadvantage: testing the cultural Red King hypothesis

  • Aydin MohseniEmail author
  • Cailin O’Connor
  • Hannah Rubin


The study of social justice asks: what sorts of social arrangements are equitable ones? But also: how do we derive the inequitable arrangements we often observe in human societies? In particular, in spite of explicitly stated equity norms, categorical inequity tends to be the rule rather than the exception. The cultural Red King hypothesis predicts that differentials in group size may lead to inequitable outcomes for minority groups even in the absence of explicit or implicit bias. We test this prediction in an experimental context where subjects divided into groups engage in repeated play of a bargaining game. We ran 14 trials involving a total of 112 participants. The results of the experiments are statistically significant and suggestive: individuals in minority groups in these experiments end up receiving fewer resources than those in majority groups. Combined with previous theoretical findings, these results give some reason to think that the cultural Red King may occur in real human groups.


Social epistemology Social justice Evolutionary game theory Experimental economics Red King hypothesis 



This research was supported by NSF Grant 1535139. Thanks to the UC Irvine Social Dynamics seminar for feedback, to the ESSL lab at UC Irvine, to Nicholas Smith, Mike Ashfield, and to Michael McBride. Many thanks to participants at the California Philosophy Workshop for comments, especially Wendy Salkin, Joshua Armstrong, David Plunkett, Gabbrielle Johnson, and Karl Schafer. Thanks also to audiences at the Philosophy, Politics, and Economics Society meeting in New Orleans, the Agent-Based Models in Philosophy conference in Bochum, the Complex Systems seminar in Moscow, Idaho, and the APA Pacific Division meeting in Vancouver. Special thanks to Justin Bruner for inspiration, and for feedback.


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© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Logic and Philosophy of ScienceUniversity of California, IrvineIrvineUSA
  2. 2.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of Notre DameNotre DameUSA

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