Pro-social or anti-social, or both? A within- and between-subjects study of social preferences

Le Zhang*, Andreas Ortmann

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


The literature on dictator (D) and joy-of-destruction (JoD) games demonstrates that some people can be nice and some people can be nasty. We study, by way of an experiment with between-subjects and within-subjects features, to what extent social preferences are consistent or context dependent. We find that participants' giving amount in D games, and the amount they destroy in JoD games, depends on the choice set. While the choice set strongly affects participants' giving decisions, its effect on participants' destruction decisions is much weaker. We observe inconsistent choices (giving in D games and destroying in JoD games) for about one in five subjects but also find this mixed-motive preference dramatically reduces when the choice sets of standard D and JoD games are enlarged. Most of our participants are selfish although they also tend to make choices that increase social welfare when given the opportunity. The Machiavellian attitudes we elicited predict the giving amount in D games but not the destruction amount in JoD games.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)23-32
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Dictator game
  • Joy-of-destruction game
  • altruism
  • nastiness
  • Mach-IV test


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