Parameters of social preference functions: measurement and external validity

Theory and Decision 74 (3):357-382 (2013)
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Abstract

Most of the existing literature on social preferences either tests whether certain characteristics of the social context influence individual decisions, or tries to estimate parameters of social preference functions describing such behavior at the level of the entire population. In the present paper, we are concerned with measuring parameters of social preference functions at the individual level. We draw upon concepts developed for eliciting other types of utility functions, in particular the literature on decision making under incomplete information. Our method derives parameters of social preference functions from indifference statements about the distribution of payoffs a group. We apply our method in a controlled social preference experiment to establish the external validity of estimated parameters. Our results show the expected relationships to some external factors and also a strong correspondence between parameter estimates and factors that, according to the subjects’ own descriptions, influenced their behavior. We also find that some concepts discussed in the literature on social preferences, in particular envy toward players receiving a larger payoff, have very diverse and complex effects at the individual level.

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