Political Science, Department of


Date of this Version



Published in American Journal of Political Science, Vol. 48, No. 1, January 2004, pp. 62–76. Copyright (c) 2004 by the Midwest Political Science Association.


Why are people more willing to accept some governmental decisions than others? In this article, we present results from a series of original experiments showing that people’s reactions to a given outcome are heavily influenced by the procedure employed to produce the outcome.We find that subjects reactmuch less favorably when a decision maker intentionally keeps a large payoff, thereby leaving the subject with a small payoff, than when that same payoff results from a procedure based on chance or on desert. Moreover, subjects react less favorably to outcomes rendered by decision makers who want to be decision makers than they do to identical outcomes selected by reluctant decision makers. Our results are consistent with increasingly prominent theories of behavior emphasizing people’s aversion to being played for a “sucker,” an attitude that makes perfect sense if people’s main goal is not to acquire as many tangible goods as possible but to make sure they are a valued part of a viable group composed of cooperative individuals.