Minimal social cues in the dictator game

Mary Rigdon, Keiko Ishii, Motoki Watabe, Shinobu Kitayama

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

198 Citations (Scopus)


Giving to others is individually costly, yet generates benefits to the recipient. Such altruistic behavior has been well documented in experimental games between unrelated, anonymous individuals. Matters of social distance between giver and receiver, or between giver and a potential bystander, are also known to be relevant to giving behavior. This paper reports results of an experiment manipulating an extremely weak social cue in the dictator game. Prior to making their decision, we present dictators with a simple visual stimulus: either three dots in a "watching-eyes" configuration, or three dots in a neutral configuration. The watching-eyes configuration is suggestive of a schematic face - a stimuli that is known to weakly activate the fusiform face area of the brain. Our results demonstrate that such a weak social cue does increase giving behavior - even under a double-blind protocol - and this difference in behavior across treatments is entirely explained by differences in the dictator behavior of males.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)358-367
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Economic Psychology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2009
Externally publishedYes


  • C91
  • D03
  • D64
  • Dictator game
  • Experimental economics
  • Generosity
  • Social cues
  • Social distance

Cite this