Rejection of unfair offers can be driven by negative emotions, evidence from modified ultimatum games with anonymity.


Journal Article

The rejection of unfair offers can be affected by both negative emotions (e.g. anger and moral disgust) and deliberate cognitive processing of behavioral consequences (e.g. concerns of maintaining social fairness and protecting personal reputation). However, whether negative emotions are sufficient to motivate this behavior is still controversial. With modified ultimatum games, a recent study (Yamagishi T, et al. (2009) Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 106:11520-11523) found that people reject unfair offers even when this behavior increases inequity, and even when they could not communicate to the proposers. Yamagishi suggested that rejection of unfair offers could occur without people's concerning of maintaining social fairness, and could be driven by negative emotions. However, as anonymity was not sufficiently guaranteed in Yamagishi's study, the rejection rates in their experiments may have been influenced by people's concerns of protecting personal reputation (reputational concerns) in addition to negative emotions; thus, it was unclear whether the rejection was driven by negative emotions, or by reputational concerns, or both. In the present study, with specific methods to ensure anonymity, the effect of reputational concerns was successfully ruled out. We found that in a private situation in which rejection could not be driven by reputational concerns, the rejection rates of unfair offers were significantly larger than zero, and in public situations in which rejection rates could be influenced by both negative emotions and reputational concerns, rejection rates were significantly higher than that in the private situation. These results, together with Yamagishi's findings, provided more complete evidence suggesting (a) that the rejection of unfair offers can be driven by negative emotions and (b) that deliberate cognitive processing of the consequences of the behavior can increase the rejection rate, which may benefit social cooperation.

Full Text

Cited Authors

  • Ma, N; Li, N; He, X-S; Sun, D-L; Zhang, X; Zhang, D-R

Published Date

  • January 2012

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 7 / 6

Start / End Page

  • e39619 -

PubMed ID

  • 22761845

Pubmed Central ID

  • 22761845

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1932-6203

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 1932-6203

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.1371/journal.pone.0039619


  • eng