Natural-field dictator game shows no altruistic giving
The Dictator Game is one of the most widely used social dilemma games after the prisoners dilemma. The "game" is simple: Each player/participant is given a pool of resources (usually money) and paired up with a partner. The player with money is given the opportunity to give some portion of their money to the other player who is powerless. Usually, players will give at least some amount of money to the other player.
Winking and Mizer set out to provide a test of the basic mechanism in the dictator game outside of the lab. They construct a situation in Las Vegas where a confederate with a pile of chips from a casino comes up to a stranger on a bus stop and offers the bag of chips to a stranger. This is supposed to create a plausible scenario because chips in Vegas are only spendable in Los Vegas so a person leaving the city may actually want to be giving away money to strangers in this setting. There is a second person, also a conferedate, standing near by the individual being offered the chips.
In the first condition, the first confederate simply offers the chips to the stranger/player. In the second condition, the confederates suggests, while offering the chips, that the player can share them with the other person standing nearby. In the third condition, the person being offered the chips is told that the person offering the chips is conducting an experiment and that the player can, if they choose to, offer the chips to the other person (as in the second setting).
The study finds that the only time the chips are ever given away is under the condition where the player realizes that they are in an experiment. The authors suggest that the effects from the dictator game are due, at least in large part and possibly completely, to the fact that players understand they are engaged in an experiment.
Theoretical and practical relevance:
A great write-up of the article is available on this blog post.