Game theory: Ultimatum and Dictator game

A set of behavioral experiments across cultures that explore the human sense of fairness.

These lesson materials introduce students to game theory as well as two concrete methods, the ultimatum game and the dictator game. The terms and rules of these games are intended to reflect the problem of distributing resources within a group. In both games, one player receives a sum of money and then has to decide if he/she wants to give some of the money to an unknown (anonymous) second person. The first player can give whatever he wants, or nothing. In the Dictator game, Player 2 has a passive role, and simply has to accept the offered amount. In the Ultimatum game, however, the second player must decide whether he accepts the money offered to him, or rejects it. If he rejects, both players will receive nothing.
Behavioral scientists play these games with adult people in different cultures, as well as with children and even with other animal species, in order to explore human and other animals’ altruistic behaviors, sense of fairness, as well as proximate and ultimate causes of these behaviors. These experiments also let students reflect on the nature of human altruism, sense of fairness, learned social norms, and their variation among individuals and cultures. They point to the reason why perceived fair distribution of resources, costs and benefits is important for the sustainability of a community.

Author: Susan Hanisch

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