“Equal or Nothing”: Concern for Fairness and Reciprocity in Trust Game


  • Chiradip Chatterjee University of North Florida, USA
  • Christopher K. Johnson University of North Florida, USA
  • Arthur B. E. Sams Colorado State University, USA




We present the results of a contingent trust game experiment measuring the impact of a ‘Fair’ allocation by the proposer on the reciprocal reaction of the responder. We used an online questionnaire to ask participants how they would respond to each possible transfer made by the proposer in a standard trust game. Existing research suggests that there is a ‘norm of reciprocity’ dictating that one repays (in kind) for the provision made by another. We have confirmed that the traditional relation between trust and reciprocity exists, and that there is a positive and significant relation between the amount transferred by the proposer and the return made by the responder. More significantly, our results suggest that in response to unequal (unfair) allocations by the proposer, responders on average return more proportionally. We believe this is the evidence of negative reciprocity, where responders return proportionately more to humiliate and/or to refuse any bond of alliance with the proposer. We also find that responders who are not economically dependent on their parents, return more than others. Psychological characteristics were also tested and interestingly a respondent who ‘cries’ when their feelings get hurt return significantly more than others.


Key words: Trust; Trust Game; Reciprocity; Fairness.

Author Biography

Chiradip Chatterjee, University of North Florida, USA

Full Professor, Department of Economics, Society and Politics (DESP)


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