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To know or not to know? Looking at payoffs signals selfish behavior, but it does not actually mean so


  • Capraro, Valerio
  • Kuilder, Jotte


Costs and benefits of everyday actions are often not known beforehand. In such situations, people can either make a choice “without looking” at the payoffs, or they can “look” and learn the exact payoffs involved before making the actual choice. Recent studies suggest that the mere act of looking at payoffs will be met with distrust by observers: “lookers” are both less trustworthy and perceived to be less trustworthy than “non-lookers”. Here we extend this line of work by changing the measure of pro-sociality: instead of trustworthiness, we consider altruism. Does “looking at payoffs” signal self-regarding preferences? Do observers’ beliefs match decision makers’ actions? Two experiments demonstrate that: (i) the level of altruism among “lookers” is not different from the level of altruism among “non-lookers”, but (ii) “lookers” are perceived to be less altruistic than “non-lookers”. These results hold both when the measure of altruism is the choice whether to help or not in the so-called “envelope game” (Experiment 1) or when the measure of altruism is the donation in a standard Dictator Game (Experiment 2). In sum, these results uncover a perception gap according to which looking at payoffs signals selfish behavior, but it does not actually mean so.

Suggested Citation

  • Capraro, Valerio & Kuilder, Jotte, 2016. "To know or not to know? Looking at payoffs signals selfish behavior, but it does not actually mean so," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 65(C), pages 79-84.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:soceco:v:65:y:2016:i:c:p:79-84
    DOI: 10.1016/j.socec.2016.08.005

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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Brañas-Garza, Pablo & Capraro, Valerio & Rascón-Ramírez, Ericka, 2018. "Gender differences in altruism on Mechanical Turk: Expectations and actual behaviour," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 170(C), pages 19-23.
    2. Cabrales, Antonio & Espin, Antonio & Kujal, Praveen & Rassenti, Stephen, 2017. "Humans' (incorrect) distrust of reflective decisions," CEPR Discussion Papers 11949, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    3. d’Adda, Giovanna & Capraro, Valerio & Tavoni, Massimo, 2017. "Push, don’t nudge: Behavioral spillovers and policy instruments," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 154(C), pages 92-95.


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