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The Effect of Structured Emotion Expression on Reciprocity in Bilateral Gift Exchange

In: Experiments in Organizational Economics


  • David J. Cooper
  • John P. Lightle


Abstract We augment a standard bilateral gift-exchange game to allow employees to communicate their gratitude for, or disapproval toward, the wage assigned to them by their manager. This provides employees with a means of reciprocation or emotion expression toward the employee which is not available in a standard gift-exchange game and may substitute for the higher-than-equilibrium efforts commonly seen in this environment. We find that employees express gratitude or disapproval according to the wage received, but these messages are not a substitute for monetary reciprocation as the relationship between wages and effort is unchanged. These results suggest that employees view the messages as a form of emotional expression independent from rewarding or punishing managers. Average wage levels are little affected by allowing messages, although wages do fall more over time in the absence of messages and individual managers’ wage choices are affected by the messages they receive.

Suggested Citation

  • David J. Cooper & John P. Lightle, 2016. "The Effect of Structured Emotion Expression on Reciprocity in Bilateral Gift Exchange," Research in Experimental Economics, in: Sebastian J. Goerg & John R. Hamman (ed.),Experiments in Organizational Economics, volume 19, pages 1-18, Emerald Publishing Ltd.
  • Handle: RePEc:eme:rexezz:s0193-230620160000019001

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    More about this item


    Gift exchange; communication; emotion expression; experiment; C70; C92; D23; J30;

    JEL classification:

    • C70 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Game Theory and Bargaining Theory - - - General
    • C92 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Group Behavior
    • D23 - Microeconomics - - Production and Organizations - - - Organizational Behavior; Transaction Costs; Property Rights
    • J30 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - General


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