Altruistic punishment is an evolutionary-based mechanism aimed at maximizing the probability of reciprocity in cooperative exchanges, through the deterrence of non-cooperators. In economic games, humans will often punish others for non-cooperation, even if this punishment is costly to the self. For instance, in the Ultimatum Game paradigm, people refuse offers considered as unfair even though they are disadvantaged financially by doing so. Here, we hypothesize that, due to an impulsive decision making style, individuals with alcoholism will display an heightened unfairness sensitivity that leads them to reject advantageous offers more frequently on the Ultimatum Game.
Thirty recently detoxified alcohol-dependent individuals and 30 matched healthy control participants performed the Ultimatum Game task, in which participants had to respond to take-it-or-leave-it offers ranging from fair to unfair and made by a fictive proposer.
Alcohol-dependent participants decided to reject unfair offers more frequently during the Ultimatum Game, as compared to controls.
In situations of social frustration or irritation, such as unfair Ultimatum Game offers, alcohol-dependent individuals may have more difficulty than controls regulating their emotional impulses, and respond aggressively or retributively (i.e., by rejecting the unfair offer).