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Relative Payoffs and Happiness: An Experimental Study

Publication Date:
Jan 2000
Project Programs:
Behavioral Economics

Some current utility models presume that people are concerned with their relative standing in a reference group. If this is true, do certain types care more about this than others? Using simple binary decisions and self-reported happiness, we investigate both the prevalence of "difference aversion" and whether happiness levels influence the taste for social comparisons. Our decision tasks distinguish between a person’s desire to achieving the social optimum, equality or advantageous relative standing. Most people appear to disregard relative payoffs, instead typically making choices resulting in higher social payoffs. While we do not find a strong general correlation between happiness and concern for relative payoffs, we do observe that a willingness to lower another person’s payoff below one’s own (competitive preferences) seems correlated with unhappiness.

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