Studies on the ultimatum game explain the rejection of low offers as costly punishment imposed by responders on unfair proposers. It is also argued that negative emotions serve as the proximate mechanism for such behavior. This article reports two experimental studies demonstrating that the rejection of low offers is also driven by a desire to maintain a sense of self-worth and that negative emotions alone are poor predictors of responders’ rejections. For this purpose we used a novel variant of the ultimatum game, in which rejecting an offer results in the proposer keeping the entire amount, thus eliminating the possibility of punishment and replacing it with a possible positive reinforcement. Although rejections entail rewarding the proposers instead of punishing them, a sizable percentage of the responders rejected low offers. Accepting low offers was found to be associated with the desire for profit maximization, while rejecting similarly low offers was associated with the desire to maintain self-worth. The evolutionary puzzle of rejecting low offers, even at a cost of rewarding unfair proposers, is resolved by adopting a wider framework of human interactions; one which accounts not only for the bearing of an interaction on the players' material capital, but also on their symbolic capital. Within such a framework, the rejection of low offers in the investigated game, as in many significant real-life situations, is explained as costly signals aimed at protecting attributes of symbolic capital, such as self-worth, status and prestige.
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[v1] 2015-11-20 20:14:18
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