Ultimatum Game behavior in light of attachment theory

Shaul Almakias, Avi Weiss

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


In this paper we import a mainstream psychological theory, known as attachment theory, into economics and show the implications of this theory for economic behavior by individuals in the ultimatum bargaining game. Attachment theory examines the psychological tendency to seek proximity to another person, to feel secure when that person is present, and to feel anxious when that person is absent. An individual's attachment style can be classified along two-dimensional axes, one representing attachment "avoidance" and one representing attachment "anxiety" Avoidant people generally feel discomfort when being close to others, have trouble trusting people and distance themselves from intimate or revealing situations. Anxious people have a fear of abandonment and of not being loved. Utilizing attachment theory, we evaluate the connection between attachment types and economic decision making, and find that in an Ultimatum Game both proposers' and responders' behavior can be explained by their attachment styles, as implied by the theory. We demonstrate how knowledge of the attachment type of the responder can be utilized by the proposer in order to maximize his expected income. We believe this theory has implications for economic behavior in different settings, such as negotiations, in general, and more specifically, may help explain behavior, and perhaps even anomalies, in other experimental settings.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)515-526
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Economic Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2012

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This paper is based on Shaul Almakias’ Ph.D. thesis written at Bar-Ilan University in 2008 under the supervision of Mario Mikulincer and Avi Weiss. Shaul Almakias thanks Mario Mikulincer for all his assistance, and the Bar-Ilan University President’s Scholarship Fund for financial support. Both authors would like to thank Simon Gaechter, Doron Sonsino, Bradley Ruffle, participants of the 2009 APESA Conference and the referees and editor for helpful comments. Financial assistance from the Department of Economics at Bar-Ilan University and The Adar Foundation is gratefully acknowledged.


  • Attachment theory
  • Behavioral economics
  • Experimental economics
  • Psychology and economics
  • Ultimatum Game


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