Mind & Society

, Volume 11, Issue 2, pp 235–256 | Cite as

The endogenous nature of the measurement of social preferences

  • John SmithEmail author


We present evidence against the standard assumptions that social preferences are stable and can be measured in a reliable, nonintrusive manner. We find evidence that measures of social preferences can affect subsequent behavior. Researchers often measure social preferences by posing dictator type allocation decisions. The social value orientation (SVO) is a particular sequence of dictator decisions. We vary the order in which the SVO and a larger stakes dictator game are presented. We also vary the form of the dictator game. In one study, we employ the standard dictator game, and in the other, we employ a nonstandard dictator game. With the standard dictator game, we find that prosocial subjects act even more prosocially when the SVO is administered first, whereas selfish subjects are unaffected by the order. With the nonstandard dictator game, we find evidence across all subjects that those who first receive the SVO are more generous in the dictator game but we do not find the effect among only the generous subjects. Across both dictator game forms, we find evidence that the subjects who are first given the SVO were more generous than subjects who are given the SVO last. We also find that this effect is stronger among the subjects with a perfectly consistent SVO measure. Although we cannot determine whether the order affects preferences or the measure of preferences, our results are incompatible with the assumptions that social preferences are stable and can be measured in a reliable, nonintrusive manner.


Experimental economics Altruism Dictator game Social value orientation Order effects 

JEL Classification

C91 D64 Z13 



The author thanks I-Ming Chiu, Hans Czap, Sean Duffy, Matt Miller, Jack Worrall, Tetsuji Yamada, and participants of the ESA conference in Washington DC and the IAREP/SABE conference in Halifax for helpful comments. This research was supported by Rutgers University Research Council Grant #202344.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EconomicsRutgers University-CamdenCamdenUSA

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