Shortened Lives, Cognitive Functioning and Social Preferences: Experimental Evidence from a Study of Huntington's Disease

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Huntington’s Disease (HD) is a genetic disease associated with significant reductions in life expectancy and quality of life for patients, with serious implications for their carers/relatives too. Once manifested, it leads to rapidly declining cognitive functioning, excessive risk-taking and poor financial management. This research applies behavioural experimental methods in exploring the relationships between impairments associated with Huntington’s Disease and social preferences – within a panel of HD and pre-manifest HD patients playing Dictator, Ultimatum, Trust and Public Goods Games. Preliminary findings suggest that HD symptoms correlate with generous offers in most of these games. One interpretation is that, assuming social preferences are hard-wired and innate, then impaired cognitive functioning increases the likelihood of generosity because automatic, instinctive System 1 thinking dominates the cognitive, deliberative System 2 thinking which is usually the focus in economic analysis and game theory.
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