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J Pers Soc Psychol. 1997 May;72(5):1061-74.

Self-interest and fairness in problems of resource allocation: allocators versus recipients.

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  • 1College of Business Administration, University of Notre Dame, Indiana 46556-0399, USA.


Two studies explored the tension between self-interest and the equality norm in problems of resource allocation. Study 1 presented graduate business students with a hypothetical task requiring them to make a series of managerial decisions. On learning the outcome of those decisions, they were asked to divide a bonus pool between self and a rival manager (who had opted for very different decisions and achieved either the same results as self on 2 criteria or a better result on 1 criterion and a worse result on the other criterion). Study 2 required Stanford and San Jose State undergraduates to consider the division of a hypothetical scholarship fund between candidates from their 2 schools. Data from both studies contrasted the apparent evenhandedness and lack of self-interest manifested by allocators with the self-serving responses of evaluators. Furthermore, when faced with different claims, participants were inclined to justify an unequal allocation of resources--provided that they, or a representative of their group, received the larger share--that few personally would have recommended, demanded, or imposed.

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