Suffering makes you egoist: Acute pain increases acceptance rates and reduces fairness during a bilateral ultimatum game

Alessandra Mancini, Viviana Betti, Maria Serena Panasiti, Enea Francesco Pavone, Salvatore Maria Aglioti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Social preferences like interpersonal altruism, fairness, reciprocity and inequity aversion are inherently linked to departures from pure self-interest. During economic interactions, for example, defectors may be punished even if this implies a cost for the punishers. This violation of canonical assumptions in economics indicates that socially oriented decisions may predominate over self-centred stances. Here we explore whether the personal experience of pain changes the balance between self-gain and socially based choices. We used laser stimulation to induce pain or a warm sensation in subjects playing a modified version of the Ultimatum Game (UG) both in the role of responder and proposer. After each shot, responders evaluated the fairness of the offer. Moreover, responders and proposers rated the intensity and unpleasantness of the sensation evoked by the laser stimulation. Results show that suffering proposers decrease fair offers and suffering responders increase their acceptance rate irrespective of economic offer. Crucially, the intensity of painful stimulation has a predictive role on Moderately Unfair offers' acceptance rates. Thus the personal experience of pain may favour the emergence of a self-centered perspective aimed at maximizing self-gain. The results suggest that bodily states play a fundamental role in higher-order interpersonal negotiations and interactions.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere26008
JournalPLoS One
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - Oct 12 2011

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Medicine(all)

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