It’s not just how the game is played, it’s whether you win or lose

Mario D. Molina, Mauricio Bucca, Michael W. Macy

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Growing disparities of income and wealth have prompted extensive survey research to measure the effects on public beliefs about the causes and fairness of economic inequality. However, observational data confound responses to unequal outcomes with highly correlated inequality of opportunity. This study uses a novel experiment to disentangle the effects of unequal outcomes and unequal opportunities on cognitive, normative, and affective responses. Participants were randomly assigned to positions with unequal opportunities for success. Results showed that both winners and losers were less likely to view the outcomes as fair or attributable to skill as the level of redistribution increased, but this effect of redistribution was stronger for winners. Moreover, winners were generally more likely to believe that the game was fair, even when the playing field was most heavily tilted in their favor. In short, it’s not just how the game is played, it’s also whether you win or lose.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbereaau1156
JournalScience Advances
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 17 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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