Social Utility and Decision Making in Interpersonal Contexts

George F. Loewenstein*, Leigh Thompson, Max H. Bazerman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

697 Scopus citations


Three studies examined preferences for outcomes to self and a codisputant. Studies 1 and 2 estimated social utility functions from judgments of satisfaction with alternative outcomes. Comparing functional forms, we found that a utility function, including terms for own payoff and for positive and negative discrepancies between the parties' payoffs (advantageous and disadvantageous inequality), provides a close fit to the data. The typical utility function is steeply increasing and convex for disadvantageous inequality and weakly declining and convex for advantageous inequality. We manipulated dispute type (personal, business) and disputant relationship (positive, neutral, or negative) and found that both strongly influence preferences for advantageous but not disadvantageous inequality. A third study contrasted implications of the social utility functions with predictions of individual utility theories.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)426-441
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of personality and social psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1989

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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