Knowing that some action is possible in principle, even if not available, could affect behaviour. This may happen because a game is perceived as part of a larger game or ‘metacontext’ that includes its outcomes as a proper subset. In an experiment we test the effects of meta-context and specific choice sets on pro-social behaviour in a series of binary mini-Dictator games by eliciting participants’ normative evaluations, fitting a norm-dependent utility, and analysing the residuals. We find that participants’ normative evaluations in mini-Dictator games derive from the meta-context (a standard Dictator game) and explain a sizeable portion of variance in choices. Restricted choice sets of mini-Dictator games also influence participants’ decisions: they take into account dictator’s losses and recipient’s gains from choosing the prosocial action as fractions of their respective maximum payoffs. This choice-set effect correlates with individual measures of rule-following propensity supporting the idea that it is also normative. Thus, there are two types of normative reasoning that contribute to pro-social behaviour: a meta-context and a choice-set effect.
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- mini-Dictator games, meta-context, choice-set effects, norms, norm-dependent utility