Vignettes2 from Radical framing effects in the ultimatum game: the impact of explicit culturally transmitted frames on economic decision-making

Many studies have documented framing effects in economic games. These studies, however, have tended to use minimal framing cues (e.g. a single sentence labelling the frame), and the frames did not involve unambiguous offer expectations. Results often did not differ substantially from those in the unframed games. Here we test the hypothesis that, in contrast to the modal offer in the unframed UG (e.g. 60% to the proposer and 40% to the responder), offers in an UG explicitly framed either as a currency exchange or a windfall will closely conform to expectations for the frame and diverge substantially from the modal offer. Participants recruited from MTurk were randomized into one of two conditions. In the control condition, participants played a standard UG. In the treatment conditions, players were provided a vignette explicitly describing the frame with their roles: some were customers and bankers in a currency exchange, and others were in a windfall scenario. We predicted (i) that modal offers in the currency exchange would involve an asymmetric split where greater than 80% went to customers and less than 20% went to bankers, and (ii) that variation in windfall offers would converge onto a 50-50 split with significantly less variation than the control condition. Our first prediction was confirmed with substantial effect sizes (<i>d</i> = 1.09 and <i>d</i> = −2.04), whereas we found no evidence for our second prediction. The first result provides further evidence that it is difficult to draw firm conclusions about economic decision-making from decontextualized games.