Saturday, 13 June 2009

What determines children's resource allocations?

The way in which children divide up resources is not only dependent on their liking for the other person, but children are also frequently able to predict how generous their classmates will be in an allocation task. They also tend to make friends with people whose allocation behaviour is more like their own. These are the conclusions from two recent studies of children's behaviour in social dilemma tasks.

Chris Moore, from Dalhousie University, asked children aged 4.5 - 6 to divide up brightly-coloured stickers between themselves and another child. Allocations were made to classmates who were identified as friends, to disliked classmates, and to strangers. Participants were shown a photograph of the stranger, called Sam or Sarah, whose sex was matched to that of the participant. The children were told that Sam/Sarah was the same age as them and went to a different school.

In prosocial trials children were given the choice of taking one sticker for themselves immediately or, at a later time, taking one sticker for themselves and one for the other person. In sharing trials they were given the choice of taking two stickers for themselves immediately and, at a later time, taking one sticker for themselves and one for the other person. Thus, on prosocial trials making a fair allocation had no cost to the children other than having to wait a little for their sticker, but on sharing trials the fair allocation meant that participants did not obtain the maximum possible for themselves.

On the prosocial trials disliked classmates were less likely to receive a sticker than either friends or strangers (who received a sticker with equal frequency). However, on the sharing trials - where fair allocations were not so beneficial for participants - both nonfriends and strangers were less likely to receive a fair allocation than were friends. The results did not appear to depend on the sex of the participant or of the recipient.

Although real-life social interactions often recur on a repeated basis, rather than a one-shot game of the kind used here, successful cooperation is facilitated if there is cooperation on the first move. Moore's study suggests that children are likely to make a positive first move with strangers as long as their is no cost to themselves.

In another study, Julia Pradel, Harald Euler, and Detlef Fetchenhauer asked 127 students (age 10-19) to allocate a share of some money to an anonymous classmate (the share could be zero). After making the allocation the participants were asked to estimate how each of their classmates had behaved in the allocation task. Finally, they listed which of their classmates they were friends with, who they simply liked, and who they disliked.

Forty-nine per cent of participants allocated exactly half to the anonymous other, 8% kept everything for themselves, and the remaining 43% allocated somewhere in between. More importantly, the participants were able to predict at above-chance levels which of their classmates would keep the money for themselves. Contrary to the authors' initial expectations, altruistic students were not more liked than egotistical ones. However, this result is less surprising in light of the other main finding: students tended to be friends with people who were more like themselves. Altruists tended to be friends with other altruists and egoists were friends with other egoists.

Participants made more accurate predictions about their friends than about those they disliked, which indicates that the results could not be entirely explained by the consensus effect (whereby people think others will behave they same way they do), although there was some evidence for this too. The authors conclude that people tend to assort themselves in their friendships along the dimension of altruism. This would help to explain why altruism persists in the face of egoism; altruists tend to avoid social interactions with those that they believe will behave in an egoistic fashion.


Moore, C. (in press, 2009). Fairness in children's resource allocations depends on the recipient. Psychological Science. DOI 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2009.02378

Pradel, J., Euler, H.A., and Fetchenhauer, D. (2009). Evolution and Human Behavior, 30, 103-113.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Transient emotions can have long-lasting effects on decision making

In a recently-published study Eduardo Andrade and Dan Ariely have shown that short-lived emotions can indirectly influence decisions that are made after the emotion has dissipated. Several previous studies have shown that emotions like happiness and anger can influence decisions that are made whilst the emotion is still current. There have also been a few studies whose results suggest that current emotions might influence future decisions, even though they were not specifically designed to assess the time course of decision making. In one classic study, men who spoke to a female interviewer whilst crossing an apparently dangerous (vs. safe) bridge were more likely follow up on an opportunity to telephone her later. The proposed explanation for this was that men on the apparently dangerous bridge mistook their feelings of danger-induced arousal for feelings of sexual arousal.

The new study by Andrade and Ariely involved the ultimatum game, in which a proposer offers a share of $10 to another person (each is typically anonymous to the other). The responder can either accept or reject this offer, but if the offer is rejected then neither person gets to keep any of the money. In the current study, the game was rigged so that 51 students received a derisory offer of $2.5. However, just prior to playing this game each student had watched a video clip designed to induce feelings of anger or happiness (respectively, a clip from the film "Life as a House" and a clip from "Friends"). Emotion ratings showed that these clips had the desired effect. Furthermore, compared to students in the happy group, those in the angry group were more likely to reject the offer of $2.5.

At this point, the students engaged in a filler task concerning "pictures and memory". A subsequent emotion rating - embedded within other questions in order to be less obvious - showed that the earlier feelings had dissipated. The students were then asked to engage in another ultimatum game, except this time they were the proposers rather than the responders. Andrade and Ariely predicted that those in the angry group would make fairer offers than those in the happy group. The rationale for this prediction was that the participants would look back on their earlier behaviour and try to behave in a consistent fashion. Thus, people who had previously felt angry about being treated unfairly would subsequently try to behave in accordance with their earlier emphasis on fairness.

The results were consistent with this prediction. Those in the angry condition kept a mean of $5.8 for themselves, whereas those in the happy condition kept $6.5. Further analysis indicated that it was the previous choice, rather than the earlier emotion that directly influenced the offers made, which supports the view that people try to behave consistently with their earlier behaviour. But, of course, the earlier emotion indirectly affected this later decision through its effect on the first one.

However, one alternative account of the ultimatum game behaviour suggests that proposals might have been based on a false consensus effect - the belief that other people tend to share one's own beliefs and attitudes. In a final component of the study, the students played the role of proposer in a dictator game. This is like the ultimatum game, except that the recipient of any offer does not have the power to reject it; therefore the size of an offer made cannot depend on one's belief about the likelihood of the other person rejecting it. Those in the angry condition kept a mean of $7 for themselves, whereas those in the happy condition kept $8 for themselves, although the difference fell short of conventional statistical significance (p = .08 for this comparison). In this respect, the results offer some further support for the consistency-based explanation, but only tentatively so.

Across the study overall, students in the angry group made a total of $12.5 compared to $14.3 for those in the happy group.

In summary, the results indicate that even transient emotions can have an influence on future decisions. It remains to be seen just how long-lasting such influences might be.


Andrade, E.B., and Ariely, D. (2009). The enduring impact of transient emotions on decision making. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 109, 1-8.

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