Do people in need share less with others? And what if the recipient is in need too? In two experiments, we addressed these questions by testing whether fastinginduced and self-rated hunger influence allocations in a dictator game in which allocators distribute food (cookies) between themselves and a recipient.
In line with rational choice theory, which posits that a deprived good should increase in value (Smith, 1759; Von Neumann & Morgenstern, 1944), findings from the current studies consistently showed that participants shared fewer cookies when they were, and/or perceived themselves to be, in a food-deprived state. Across studies, participants moreover seemed to project their own hunger onto the recipient’s state, as emotional perspective taking accounts propose, but this did not vary between fasting and control conditions, and did not translate into actual sharing differences, suggesting that these formed no basis for other-regarding decisions. Whether or not participants accounted for the recipient’s hunger when redistributing foods, depended on whether they possessed actual knowledge of the recipient’s deprivation state, such that participants engaged in greater sharing when they knew the recipient had been fasting (Study 2), but not in the absence of such knowledge (Study 1).
Taken together, the results involving the need state of the recipient seem to provide most support for the need principle, that suggests that people share out of distributive justice considerations, where they take into account the recipient’s need (Deutsch, 1975).