International Journal of Psychology and Psychological Therapy

Volume 11 Num. 2 - June 2011


Coping with Bargains in the Ultimatum Game: The Triple Circuit Hypothesis

Volume 11 Num. 2 - June 2011 - Pages 183-199


?lvaro Machado , Luiz Roberto Britto , Eduardo Oda


This paper aims to present a new hypothesis on cognitive and neurobiological processes involved in the evaluation of offers, based on Ultimatum Game (UG). Recently, different studies have linked serotonin and serotonin-related compounds to rejection rates in this game, through the mediation of intolerance to unfairness, thus leading to the serotonin hypothesis of UG. Despite the great interest of these findings, the current paper shows that the behavior of a responder in the game is much more complex than originally thought, and that are needed at least three cognitive schemas and neurobiological processes to properly cope with that behavior. This paper is designed as a classic scientific hypothesis. First, it defines the epistemological basis of the hypothesis, which is introduced in relation to limitations of the field that are expected to be overcome by this endeavor. Next, it presents evidence for the hypothesis, and finally it makes predictions that can be used to test it. The new hypothesis is named triple-circuit hypothesis; it states that at the cognitive level, the minimum schemas to represent the responder?s behavior are: pre-consciousness discrepancy; attributional schema based upon valence activation; and the counterfactual tendency to repress impulsive behaviors. At the neurobiological level, it proposes that the essential circuit relies on: transient decreases in phasic activity of neurons located in the dorsolateral portion of midbrain (error processing); MPFC excitatory firings toward the limbic system (especially the amygdala), mainly through glutamatergic pathways; dopaminergic activity toward the MPFC, generating inhibitory activity, which disinhibits limbic activity. Several evidences in support our hypothesis are presented.

Key words:

ultimatum game, neurobiology of bargains, fairness, decision-making

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