Are irrational reactions to unfairness truly emotionally-driven? Dissociated behavioural and emotional responses in the Ultimatum Game task


The “irrational” rejections of unfair offers by people playing the Ultimatum Game (UG), a widely used laboratory model of economical decision-making, have traditionally been associated with negative emotions, such as frustration, elicited by unfairness (Sanfey et al., 2003, van’t Wout et al., 2006). We recorded skin conductance responses as a measure of emotional activation while participants performed a modified version of the UG, in which they were asked to play both for themselves and on behalf of a third-party. Our findings show that even unfair offers are rejected when participants’ payoff is not affected (third-party condition); however, they show an increase in the emotional activation specifically when they are rejecting offers directed towards themselves (myself condition). These results suggest that theories emphasizing negative emotions as the critical factor of “irrational” rejections (Pillutla & Murninghan, 1996) should be re-discussed. Psychological mechanisms other than emotions might be better candidates for explaining this behaviour.

Cognition. 114, 89-95
Corrado Corradi˗Dell'Acqua
Corrado Corradi˗Dell'Acqua
Neuroscientist - Cognitive Psychologist - Data Scientist