An Introduction to Other‑Regarding Preferences with an Application to Contract Design
Economic models of individual behavior often make the assumption that in evaluating between competing alternatives agents are only concerned with how each alternative impacts their own payoffs. This simple, yet reasonable, assumption postulates that agents are self‑regarding, that is, agents are not concerned with how their decisions affect other people. This study casts doubt on this assumption. There has been a steady accumulation of experimental evidence from games such as the ultimatum game and the gift exchange game where the observed behavior is not explained by assuming that agents have self‑regarding preferences. Agents often make decisions that lower their payoffs if by doing so other agents are better off. In contrast to self‑regarding preferences, agents are said in this case to have other‑regarding preferences. Most of the evidence discussed in this study was gathered by the use of laboratory experiments. The issue of external validity of this evidence has long been a point of contention. Lab experiments are highly artificial environments that place strong constraints on individual behavior. While this imbues them with their source of methodological strength, it is also a weakness. Evidence gathered in the lab does not necessarily generalize to the real world, and lab experiments are often compared with field studies which are assumed to provide
evidence that is more externally valid. We examine the question of the external validity of lab experiments and conclude they are a valid tool for gathering scientific evidence about human behavior.
Self‑regarding preferences, social preferences, ultimatum game, contract design
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