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The Dictator Game, Fairness and Ethnicity in Postwar Bosnia


  • This research was made possible by funding from the National Science Foundation (#0318389), the Fulbright-Hays Dissertation Fellowship Program, and a short-term travel grant from IREX. None of these agencies bears any responsibility for the claims made in this research. Monika Nalepa provided useful comments on several versions of this paper. Emina Osmanagic provided invaluable support in the field. Finally, our anonymous reviewers and the editor were very helpful in focusing this article.

Sam Whitt is visiting assistant professor of political science, University of Tennessee, 1001 McClung Tower, Knoxville, TN 37996-0410 ( Rick K. Wilson is professor of political science, MS 24, Rice University, Houston, TX 77251-1892 (


This study considers the effects of ethnic violence on norms of fairness. Once violence is a foregone conclusion, will cooperative norms ever (re-)emerge beyond ethnic boundaries? We use an experiment that measures how fairly individuals in a postconflict setting treat their own ingroup in comparison to the outgroups—in this case, examining the behavior of 681 Muslims, Croats, and Serbs in postwar Bosnia-Herzegovina. To assess fairness, we use the dictator game wherein subjects decide how to allocate a sum of money between themselves and an anonymous counterpart of varying ethnicity. We find that the effects of ethnicity on decision making are captured by our experiments. Although results indicate preferential ingroup treatment, the incidence and magnitude of outgroup bias is much less than expected. We conclude that norms of fairness across ethnicity are remarkably strong in Bosnia, and we take this to be a positive sign for reconciliation after violent conflict.