Error prone inference from respons time: The case of intuitive generosity

M.P. Recalde, A.M. Riedl, L. Vesterlund

Research output: Working paper / PreprintWorking paper

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Response time is increasingly used to shed light on the process by which individuals
make decisions. As mistakes may be correlated with response time it could, however, be
misleading to use this measure to draw inference on preferences. To demonstrate we build on a
recent literature, which uses response time to determine whether individuals intuitively are
generous or selfish. Examining public good games researchers have shown that fast decision
makers appear more generous than slow decision makers and this has been interpreted as
evidence that generosity is intuitive and impulsive while selfishness is a calculated response
(Rand et al. 2012; Nielsen, et al. 2014). Modifying the public good game to have an interior
dominant strategy equilibrium we ask if the negative correlation between response time and
giving is sensitive to the location of the equilibrium and whether it may result from mistakes.
When the equilibrium is located below the midpoint of the strategy space we replicate earlier
findings. However, when the equilibrium is located above the midpoint of the strategy space we
get instead a positive correlation between response time and giving. While contribution
distributions vary significantly by treatment for slow decision makers, these differences are not
significant for fast decision makers. Fast decision makers are in both treatments more likely to
make contributions that simultaneously lower individual and group earnings. We argue that the
negative correlation between response time and giving rather than reflecting ‘spontaneous
giving’, results from confused participants quickly selecting contributions that lie, on average, in
the middle of the strategy space. Our results demonstrate that inference on preferences from
response time requires that we take into account how mistakes are correlated with response time.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationMaastricht
PublisherMaastricht University, Graduate School of Business and Economics
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2014

Publication series

SeriesGSBE Research Memoranda


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