The Effect of Impression Formation on Rejection in the Ultimatum Game

Keywords: ultimatum games, unfairness rejection, preference for fairness, deterrence, retribution, impression formation


Previous studies have attempted to elucidate people’s motives for rejecting unfair offers in the ultimatum game. One approach assumes that people reject unfair offers to punish ill intentions behind the offers, motivated by retribution and/or deterrence. To disentangle these two motives and investigate when each motive drives rejection, we focused on people’s tendency to form moral impressions rapidly. We hypothesized that the deterrence motive would drive rejection when the negative impression of those who have made unfair offers is uncertain, while the retribution motive would drive rejection when the impression is certain. The result of an online experiment (N = 199) of a repeated mini-ultimatum game did not support our hypothesis; the certainty of the negative impression did not have significant effects on rejection of unfairness. We discuss the implications of this result, incorporating the results of exploratory analyses regarding self-reported motives.

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