TP 4: Processing Social Preferences

Principal Investigator: Urs Fischbacher

Research Team: David Dohmen, Konstantin von Hesler

There is a large body of evidence that people do exhibit behaviour that is in compatible with selfish preferences and is driven by other motives, which we all label here as social preferences. There is a huge literature that investigates the structure of social preferences on a behavioural level. However, little is known about how these preferences are processed. In this project, we aim for a better understanding of these processes. We are in particular interested in which motives are associated with more automatic processes and which are associated with more controlled processes. Controlled processes require more decision time and more cognitive resources. We use response time measurement to assess which motives could be processed automatically, and use time pressure or cognitive load to confirm these findings. We investigate the following facets of social preferences. In one study, we plan to investigate distribution norms. How do people deal with a tradeoff between equity and efficiency? How do they take their own payoff into account? We are interested in this question because we expect heterogeneity in the norm, but we expect selfishness to be an automatic process irrespective of the norm. Two studies investigate rewarding and punishing behaviour. Finally,the processing of reputation concerns is investigated in an experiment in which we vary whether peoples’ reputations are at stake or not.


  • Affect and fairness: Dictator games under cognitive load. Jonathan F. Schulz, Urs Fischbacher, Christian Thöni, and Verena Utikal, 2014, Journal of Economic Psychology, Vol. 41, pp. 77–87.

Working Papers

  • Pivotality and Responsibility Attribution in Sequential Voting. Björn Bartling, Urs Fischbacher, and Simeon Schudy, 2015.
  • Information Processing Styles and Social Value Orientation Interactively Determine Reciprocal Fairness Preferences. Maik Bieleke, Peter M. Gollwitzer, Gabriele Oettingen, and Urs Fischbacher, 2015.

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