Get access

Accepting Authoritative Decisions: Humans as Wary Cooperators


  • John R. Hibbing,

  • John R. Alford

  • An earlier version of this article was presented at the 2002 annual meeting of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society, Rutgers University. The authors gratefully acknowledge the invaluable assistance of Kevin Arceneaux, Martin Johnson, and Stacy Ulbig, the suggestions of Chris Larimer, Levente Littvay, Kevin Smith, Robert Stein, and Elizabeth Theiss-Morse, and the financial support of the College of Social Sciences, Rice University.

John R. Hibbing is the Foundation Regents University Professor of Political Science, University of Nebraska-Lincoln, Lincoln, NE 68588-0328 ( John R. Alford is Associate Professor of Political Science at Rice University, Houston, TX 77251 (


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 react much 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.