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The endogenous nature of the measurement of social preferences

Smith, John (2010): The endogenous nature of the measurement of social preferences.

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Abstract

We present evidence against the standard assumptions that social preferences are stable and can be measured in a reliable, nonintrusive manner. 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. In our first study, we find that prosocial subjects act even more prosocially when the SVO is administered first, whereas selfish subjects are unaffected by the order. We also find that, among subjects with consistent responses on the SVO measure, the subjects who first receive the SVO are more generous in the dictator game than are such subjects who receive the SVO last. In our second study, we vary the order of the SVO and a 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. We again find that subjects with a perfectly consistent SVO measure are more generous when the SVO is given first. Although we cannot determine whether the timing 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.

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