The ultimatum bargaining game: An adaptation for teaching ethics

Charles N. Bertolami, Cristián Opazo, Malvin N. Janal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: The ultimatum bargaining game has been devised by economists to measure fairness and generosity during negotiations. This study sought to adapt the game to classroom application with the intent of (a) determining whether the known outcomes would be replicated given modifications needed to make the game suitable as an educational tool and (b) sharing the resulting self-appraisal with students themselves. Methods: A total of 452 first-year dental students participated in this adaptation as part of a classroom exercise. Students, identified as donors, were allocated an imaginary stake of $100 and asked to share some amount of it with a recipient classmate by making a nonnegotiable, one-time offer. If the offer is accepted, the donor student retains any residual amount. If the offer is rejected, neither the donor nor recipient receives anything. The question being tested is whether student fairness and/or generosity change when the preferred donor status is assigned at random versus on the basis of an earned property entitlement represented here by a higher-class rank. Results and Conclusion: When status as Group A donors was established at random, the majority of students offered their fictitious Group B counterpart the fairest possible amount of $50 (70.4% in 2020 and 61% in 2018). However, when students were told that their status as Group A donors would be established based on their ranking in the upper half of the class, the percentage offering the fairest amount declined to 49.5% in 2020 and to 51.8% in 2018. This outcome was available for immediate disclosure to students during the classroom session; it was consistent with results previously reported for the ultimatum bargaining game; and it showed that when a property entitlement is perceived as having been earned (manifested by a higher-class rank), fairness and generosity decline.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)437-442
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of dental education
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2022


  • altruism
  • dental education
  • dental student
  • ethics
  • fairness
  • generosity
  • survey

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • General Dentistry


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