Dr. Jingping Xu (Positive Psychology In Action, Inc.) will be presenting on Meaning, Emotions, and Decision Making in the Ultimatum Game.

Presentation Abstract:

Meaning, Emotions, and Decision Making in the Ultimatum Game

          Ultimatum game is an economic game often used to study self interest.  It is also widely used to study various aspects of human decision making.  It may involve meaning in decision making and a role of emotions in it.  In a simple ultimatum game, an allocator is required to split (at the allocator’s will) a given sum of money with a recipient.  If the recipient accepts the allocator’s splitting offer, the split moves forward and the two parties each gets their agreed share.  If the recipient rejects the split, neither gets anything.  The economic theory based on self interest predicts that the allocator would split the amount most favorable to the self (i.e., giving the lowest offer possible), while the recipient would accept any non zero offer over nothing.  However, mounting data suggested that not only the allocator did not typically act in self interest to any extreme (the mean offer from hundreds of experiments by different researchers is 60% of the sum for the allocator and 40% for the recipient, and the mode is the fair-and-square 50%/50% split), but also, the recipient typically rejects offers below 30% (when the allocator wants more than 70% of the sum), preferring to have nothing instead.  Interpretation of these “surprising” decision making results possibly involves attribution (e.g., “What would they think if I act selfishly?” (allocator); “Why offering me this unfair low amount?” (recipient)), meaning seeking (fairness and reputation), and/or meaning making (e.g., “It is good to be fair” (allocator), “It is justice to reject the unfair offers even that means I will get nothing” (recipient)); “Such unfair behavior needs to be punished” (recipient).

Emotions, including positive emotions, may play a role in decision making (Damasio, 1995, 2001; Isen & Patrick, 1983; Isen, Nygren, & Ashby, 1988).  In the ultimatum game, the perceived unfairness (attribution of being treated unfairly) invokes negative emotions that may lead to rejections against self interest (Pillutla & Murnighan, 1996).  Incidental positive emotions, then, through the “undo” effect (Fredrickson, 2003), may down-regulate such response of negative emotions’.  Positive emotions may also influence attribution (e.g., “It is not against me that the other side is doing this”), and/or meaning making (“The other side can do what they want but it will not affect me” “I have control over my own action”).

Theories and empirical evidence concerning the above will be discussed.

The ultimatum game reveals decision making processes that have similarity to health-related decision making, such as the negative emotions invoked by certain health issues (e.g., HIV screening due to stigma) that need to be down regulated.  As health-related decision making may eventually influence health, and essentially any significant decision making in life may influence wellbeing and health, attribution, meaning seeking and meaning making in decision making, and the influences of emotions on these, may have implications to cognitive science and health science alike.