Handbook on the Economics of Reciprocity and Social Enterprise
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Handbook on the Economics of Reciprocity and Social Enterprise

Edited by Luigino Bruni and Stefano Zamagni

The recent era of economic turbulence has generated a growing enthusiasm for an increase in new and original economic insights based around the concepts of reciprocity and social enterprise. This stimulating and thought-provoking Handbook not only encourages and supports this growth, but also emphasises and expands upon new topics and issues within the economics discourse.
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Chapter 10: Do dictator games measure altruism?

Daniel John Zizzo


As communism once haunted Europe according to the Communist Manifesto, so does the dictator game haunt the hallways, if not of Europe, of the standard consensus in behavioral and experimental research as developed in the last 20 years or so. Grand claims on the significance of this game for altruism and for the relevance of a wide array of social factors in studying dictator games have been made and developed in what has been a successful cottage industry of academic research in economics; at least, successful in terms of its ability in getting published (e.g., for recent Econometrica and European Economic Review examples, see Andreoni and Berheim, 2009, and Servatka, 2009, respectively). This chapter considers briefly whether dictator games are a good tool to measure altruism. The answer is negative: behavior in dictator games is seriously confounded by what I shall label experimenter demand effects (Zizzo, 2010). The following section briefly defines dictator games and reviews some of its purported enduring appeal. The last section criticizes dictator games as a measure of altruism and concludes by considering whether a role for dictator games can still be found that may be of relevance for the economics of philanthropy.

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