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Sci Rep. 2016 Feb 29;6:22316. doi: 10.1038/srep22316.

Generalized Negative Reciprocity in the Dictator Game--How to Interrupt the Chain of Unfairness.

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Department of Psychology, University of Lübeck, Lübeck, Germany.
Center for Economics and Neuroscience, University of Bonn, Bonn, Germany.
Department of Psychiatry, University Hospital Bonn, Bonn, Germany.
Department of Epileptology, University Hospital Bonn, Bonn, Germany.


Humans are tremendously sensitive to unfairness. Unfairness provokes strong negative emotional reactions and influences our subsequent decision making. These decisions might not only have consequences for ourselves and the person who treated us unfairly but can even transmit to innocent third persons--a phenomenon that has been referred to as generalized negative reciprocity. In this study we aimed to investigate whether regulation of emotions can interrupt this chain of unfairness. Real allocations in a dictator game were used to create unfair situations. Three different regulation strategies, namely writing a message to the dictator who made an unfair offer, either forwarded or not forwarded, describing a neutral picture and a control condition in which subjects just had to wait for three minutes, were then tested on their ability to influence the elicited emotions. Subsequently participants were asked to allocate money between themselves and a third person. We show that writing a message which is forwarded to the unfair actor is an effective emotion regulation strategy and that those participants who regulated their emotions successfully by writing a message made higher allocations to a third person. Thus, using message writing as an emotion regulation strategy can interrupt the chain of unfairness.

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