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On the Validity of Cost-Saving Methods in Dictator-Game Experiments: A Systematic Test

Walkowitz, Gari (2017): On the Validity of Cost-Saving Methods in Dictator-Game Experiments: A Systematic Test.

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Abstract

Motivated by methodological concerns, theoretical considerations, and evidence from previous studies, this paper makes a contribution to conducting dictator-game experiments under resource constraints. Using a holistic and strictly controlled approach, we systematically assess the validity of common cost-saving dictator-game variants. We include five common approaches and compare them to a standard dictator game: involving fewer receivers than dictators; paying only some subjects or decisions; role uncertainty at the time of the transfer decision; a combination of random decision payment and role uncertainty. To test the validity of subjects’ dictator-game decisions, we relate them to complementary individual difference measures of generosity: social value orientation, personal values, and a donation to charity. In line with previous evidence, our data show that dictator behavior is quite sensitive to the applied methods. The standard version of the dictator game has the highest validity. Involving fewer receivers than dictators and not paying for all decisions yields comparably valid results. These methods may, therefore, represent feasible alternatives for the conduct of dictator games under contraints. By contrast, in the dictator-game variants where only some subjects are paid or where subjects face uncertainty about their final player role, the expected associations with other measures of generosity are distorted. Under role uncertainty, generosity is also biased upwards. We conclude that these methods are inappropriate when the researchers are interested in valid individual measures of generosity.

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