Prosocial personality traits differentially predict egalitarianism, generosity, and reciprocity in economic games

Kun Zhao, Eamonn Ferguson, Luke D. Smillie

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48 Citations (Scopus)


Recent research has highlighted the role of prosocial personality traits-agreeableness and honesty-humility-in egalitarian distributions of wealth in the dictator game. Expanding on these findings, we ran two studies to examine individual differences in two other forms of prosociality-generosity and reciprocity-with respect to two major models of personality, the Big Five and the HEXACO. Participants (combined N = 560) completed a series of economic games in which allocations in the dictator game were compared with those in the generosity game, a non-constant-sum wealth distribution task where proposers with fixed payoffs selected the size of their partner's payoff ("generosity"). We further examined positive and negative reciprocity by manipulating a partner's previous move ("reciprocity"). Results showed clear evidence of both generosity and positive reciprocity in social preferences, with allocations to a partner greater in the generosity game than in the dictator game, and greater still when a player had been previously assisted by their partner. There was also a consistent interaction with gender, whereby men were more generous when this was costless and women were more egalitarian overall. Furthermore, these distinct forms of prosociality were differentially predicted by personality traits, in line with the core features of these traits and the theoretical distinctions between them. HEXACO honesty-humility predicted dictator, but not generosity allocations, while traits capturing tendencies toward irritability and anger predicted lower generosity, but not dictator allocations. In contrast, the politeness-but not compassion-aspect of Big Five agreeableness was uniquely and broadly associated with prosociality across all games. These findings support the discriminant validity between related prosocial constructs, and have important implications for understanding the motives and mechanisms taking place within economic games.

Original languageEnglish
Article number01137
Number of pages18
JournalFrontiers in Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 9 Aug 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Agreeableness
  • Big five
  • Compassion
  • Dictator game
  • Honesty-humility
  • Politeness
  • Social preferences

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