Driving hard bargains

From Nature, so you know its a contribution to knowledge, a story about research at the University of Leuven who have examined the behaviour of men playing the ultimatum game.

This game is a simple one where one person makes a take-it-or-leave-it offer to another over how to split an amount of money. Either the other person accepts the deal or they do not. In the latter case, no one gets any money. Game theory predicts that the offeror will ask for (almost) all the money and the offeree will accept this because it is better to get something rather than nothing.

In experiments, this outcome does not occur and usually offerors offer something fairer (40 or 50 percent) and offerees reject things that are unfair. The new research looks at the behaviour of men playing this game factoring in their testosterone levels. It turns out that the higher the testosterone the more likely offerors will make high demands and the more likely offerees will only accept fair offers. Thus, pit two high testosterone individuals together and a deal isn’t likely.

But then the researchers did something else. They showed the subjects pictures of bikini-clad women. This didn’t affect the low testosterone subjects’ behaviour but did soften the stance of high testosterone ones. The suggestion is that advertisements depicting women with little clothing will get some men to pay higher prices. This is a longer bow to draw. Indeed, there is a sense that we already knew this. My consumer behaviour colleague, Brian Gibbs, demonstrated that ads with such pictures were much more effective (on men and on women) than those without them.