Paradigmatic experiments: The ultimatum game from testing to measurement device

Philosophy of Science 75 (5):658-669 (2008)
The Ultimatum Game is one of the most successful experimental designs in the history of the social sciences. In this article I try to explain this success—what makes it a “paradigmatic experiment”—stressing in particular its versatility. Despite the intentions of its inventors, the Ultimatum Game was never a good design to test economic theory, and it is now mostly used as a heuristic tool for the observation of nonstandard preferences or as a “social thermometer” for the observation of culture‐specific norms. †To contact the author, please write to: Department of Sociology and Philosophy, University of Exeter, Amory Building, Exeter EX4 4DT, UK; e‐mail:
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DOI 10.1086/594512
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