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Asymmetric obligations

  • Riedel, Nadine
  • Schildberg-Hörisch, Hannah

Are people more likely to infringe on a legal obligation if they perceive it as unfair? This question is especially relevant in situations with low potential punishment for disobeying an obligation, i.e., with expressive law. To explore this issue, we present experimental evidence on how expressive law affects behavior if the law defines asymmetric obligations for ex ante identical individuals. To implement expressive law we introduce very weakly incentivized obligations, i.e., minimum contribution levels, in a repeated public goods experiment. Our main finding is that, in an environment with asymmetric obligations, people adhere to their individual obligation to the same extent as in an environment with symmetric obligations. This result is compatible with the argument that expressive law affects behavior by attaching an emotional cost of disobeying the own obligation such as a loss in self-esteem. We only find a significant temporary effect of obligations that vanishes in the long run.

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Article provided by Elsevier in its journal Journal of Economic Psychology.

Volume (Year): 35 (2013)
Issue (Month): C ()
Pages: 67-80

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Handle: RePEc:eee:joepsy:v:35:y:2013:i:c:p:67-80
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