The February 26, 2013 blog post of the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School looked at what role gender plays in the “dictator game”. In “The Dictator Game: Justifying Selfishness In Negotiation”, the author reviews a recent study on selfishness in negotiation by Fei Song of York University and C. Brian Cadsby and Tristan Morris of the University of Guelph. ( ) In their study, participants played the “dictator game” in which “…Party A is given a sum of money to allocate between himself and Party B. Because Party B has no power, Party A’s allocation goes into effect without debate. The dictator game captures the essence of negotiations in contexts with an extreme power differential.” (Id.)

The researchers compared the results of the game when played by a single player as Party A versus those playing as part of a two person team. They also compared how males and females played in the role of Party A. They found that male players were “significantly more selfish when they represented a team…” than when acting alone while female players were “… less influenced by whether they represented only themselves or a … team.” (Id.).

Earlier research had also concluded that “… negotiators are more selfish when they can attribute selfish behavior to their group rather than to themselves.” (Id.) Thus, one might read in the news that a federal judge is retiring from the bench to go into private practice to put his children through private college. In essence, the judge is retiring to make more money in private practice but won’t say so; she prefers to attribute the job change to her family’s needs.

The researchers also raised the notion that female negotiators “…are less influenced by the social context of representing a group….” (Id.) That is, when they start to reference a family, or other group, they may be gearing up to claim more than their fair share of the distribution. ( Id.)

Whether one is negotiating in her own behalf or on behalf of a group, makes a difference and will definitely, affect, the ultimate share of the distribution that each party receives.

So… the dictator game is definitely worth remembering the next time you negotiate anything.

….. Just something to think about.


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