Predicting Unequal Treatment: The Role of Social Perception in Economic Valuation

People’s concern for others is a long-celebrated feature of human sociality, yet people do not appear to extend this concern uniformly. How people treat others depends on who those others are—for example on their race, gender, or nationality—violating prevailing models of social preferences. Here, we offer a quantitative model that accounts for and predicts unequal treatment of others by integrating behavioral economic frameworks capturing how people value outcomes (social valuation) with psychological frameworks capturing how people see others (social perception). Using a battery of economic games, we show that this identity-based social valuation model robustly predicted unequal treatment across a diverse set of counterparts, even in out-of-sample scenarios involving novel counterparts and participants. These results elucidate how social perception influences well-studied components of social valuation, including preferences for fairness and reciprocity, with implications for scientific understanding of discrimination.


Ming Hsu is Associate Professor at the Haas School of Business and Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute, UC Berkeley. Dr. Hsu’s lab takes an interdisciplinary approach to study the biological basis of economic and consumer decision-making at a number of different levels of analyses, including: (i) brain regions mediating computations involved in different aspects of decision-making, (ii) the underlying molecular, cellular, and genetic mechanisms, and (iii) how real-world outcomes are associated with variations in these processes.


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