Testing Social Preferences Through Differential Attention to Own and Partner’s Payoff in a Prisoner’s Dilemma Game

  • Shigehito Tanida Nagano University
  • Toshio Yamagishi Hokkaido University
Keywords: cooperation, prisoner’s dilemma, attention, eye tracker, social preference


Cooperation in one-shot public good games, where future returns are unavailable, is observed in numerous experimental studies. Economists and psychologists explain such behavior as a reflection of social preferences—utilities deriving from payoffs to others as well as to themselves. We tested validity of this explanation by measuring how long cooperators and defectors looked at payoffs to themselves and to the partner with an eye tracking device. Cooperators spent more time than defectors looking at payoffs to the partner only when the payoff matrix was difficult for the players to perceive as an instance of social exchange. When the matrix was easy to comprehend as an instance of social exchange, cooperators paid less attention to payoff to the partner than did defectors. The results indicate that the deliberate processes assumed in social utility models take place only when the other, faster and cue-driven process is unavailable.
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