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Sci Rep. 2014 Aug 12;4:6025. doi: 10.1038/srep06025.

Fair and unfair punishers coexist in the Ultimatum Game.

Author information

Business School, Middlesex University London, London NW4 4BT, UK.
GLOBE, Departamento de Teoría e Historia Económica, Universidad de Granada, Campus de la Cartuja s/n, 18071 Granada, Spain.
Istanbul Bilgi University, BELIS, Murat Sertel Center for Advanced Economic Studies, 34060 Eyup Istanbul, Turkey.
School of Economics, University of Nottingham, University Park Nottingham, Nottingham, NG7 2RD, UK.


In the Ultimatum Game, a proposer suggests how to split a sum of money with a responder. If the responder rejects the proposal, both players get nothing. Rejection of unfair offers is regarded as a form of punishment implemented by fair-minded individuals, who are willing to impose the cooperation norm at a personal cost. However, recent research using other experimental frameworks has observed non-negligible levels of antisocial punishment by competitive, spiteful individuals, which can eventually undermine cooperation. Using two large-scale experiments, this note explores the nature of Ultimatum Game punishers by analyzing their behavior in a Dictator Game. In both studies, the coexistence of two entirely different sub-populations is confirmed: prosocial punishers on the one hand, who behave fairly as dictators, and spiteful (antisocial) punishers on the other, who are totally unfair. The finding has important implications regarding the evolution of cooperation and the behavioral underpinnings of stable social systems.

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