Trustworthiness and Negative Affect Predict Economic Decision-Making

J Cogn Psychol (Hove). 2011 Sep 1;23(6):748-759. doi: 10.1080/20445911.2011.575773. Epub 2011 Jul 26.


The Ultimatum Game (UG) is a widely used and well-studied laboratory model of economic decision-making. Here, we studied 129 healthy adults and compared demographic (i.e., age, gender, education), cognitive (i.e., intelligence, attention/working memory, speed, language, visuospatial, memory, executive functions), and personality (i.e., "Big Five", positive affect, negative affect) variables between those with a "rational" versus an "irrational" response pattern on the UG. Our data indicated that participants with "rational" UG performance (accepting any offer, no matter the fairness) endorsed higher levels of trust, or the belief in the sincerity and good intentions of others, while participants with "irrational" UG performance (rejecting unfair offers) endorsed higher levels of negative affect, such as anger and contempt. These personality variables were the only ones that differentiated the two response patterns-demographic and cognitive factors did not differ between rational and irrational players. The results indicate that the examination of personality and affect is crucial to our understanding of the individual differences that underlie decision-making.

Keywords: Ultimatum Game; decision making; negative affect; trustworthiness.