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The Dictator Game

By JAMES COAKES Published 1st Jun 2015
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The Dictator Game tests John Dalberg-Acton's adage that 'power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely'. The game has been played and recorded in various levels of controlled situations over the years. The latest study includes some interesting additional information.

The game involves a group of participants. Some are chosen randomly to be leaders and assigned a different number of followers each. They are then given an amount of money which they can distribute amongst their clan. Whenever this game is played the result tends to be that leaders with the larger number of followers, and the greatest number of choices, tend to keep the largest amount of money for themselves. The conclusion is that power does, indeed, tend to corrupt.

A recent version of this game was played by some Swiss psychologists from the University of Lausanne and recorded in The Leadership Quarterly. The first game involved 718 students from a business school. 162 were chosen as leaders and the game played as usual, with the usual results as the outcome.

The second game involved a smaller field, 240 students, but each had their testosterone levels and various personality traits measured. The group decided on how much money it was reasonable for a leader to take, establishing social norms or rules for the game. As the game was played it emerged that leaders with higher levels of testosterone were more likely to break the rules and award themselves more money than they had agreed to before the game. Scoring highly for personal honesty in the personality profiling undertaken before play was no guarantee that, when wrapped up in the game, leaders with high testosterone would not go against agreed rules.

The psychologists propose that this proves that absolute power does indeed corrupt absolutely. Does this mean that we need to inject bankers with oestrogen ... or perhaps more simply from banks to employ more women in positions of power?

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