IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

Self-Image and Strategic Ignorance in Moral Dilemmas


  • Grossman, Zachary
  • van der Weele, Joël


Avoiding information about adverse welfare consequences of self-interested decisions, orstrategic ignorance, is an important source of corruption, anti-social behavior and even atrocities. We model an agent who cares about self-image and has the opportunity to learn the social benefits of a personally costly action. The trade-off between self-image concerns and material payoffs can lead the agent to use ignorance as an excuse, even if it is deliberately chosen. Two experiments, modeled after Dana, Weber, and Kuang (2007), show that a) many people will reveal relevant information about others' payoffs after making an ethical decision, but not before, and b) some people are willing to pay for ignorance. These results corroborate the idea that Bayesian self-signaling drives people to avoid inconvenient facts in moral decisions.

Suggested Citation

  • Grossman, Zachary & van der Weele, Joël, 2013. "Self-Image and Strategic Ignorance in Moral Dilemmas," University of California at Santa Barbara, Economics Working Paper Series qt0bp6z29t, Department of Economics, UC Santa Barbara.
  • Handle: RePEc:cdl:ucsbec:qt0bp6z29t

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:;origin=repeccitec
    Download Restriction: no

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Nyborg, Karine, 2011. "I don't want to hear about it: Rational ignorance among duty-oriented consumers," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 79(3), pages 263-274, August.
    2. Urs Fischbacher & Franziska Föllmi-Heusi, 2013. "Lies In Disguise—An Experimental Study On Cheating," Journal of the European Economic Association, European Economic Association, vol. 11(3), pages 525-547, June.
    3. Markus M. Mobius & Muriel Niederle & Paul Niehaus & Tanya Rosenblat, 2011. "Managing self-confidence: theory and experimental evidence," Working Papers 11-14, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
    4. Aghion, Philippe & Tirole, Jean, 1997. "Formal and Real Authority in Organizations," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 105(1), pages 1-29, February.
    5. Tara Larson & C. Monica Capra, 2009. "Exploiting moral wiggle room: Illusory preference for fairness? A comment," Judgment and Decision Making, Society for Judgment and Decision Making, vol. 4(6), pages 467-474, October.
    6. Erin L. Krupka & Roberto A. Weber, 2013. "Identifying Social Norms Using Coordination Games: Why Does Dictator Game Sharing Vary?," Journal of the European Economic Association, European Economic Association, vol. 11(3), pages 495-524, June.
    7. Christoph Engel, 2011. "Dictator games: a meta study," Experimental Economics, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 14(4), pages 583-610, November.
    8. George Loewenstein & Don Moore & Roberto Weber, 2006. "Misperceiving the value of information in predicting the performance of others," Experimental Economics, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 9(3), pages 281-295, September.
    9. Murnighan, J. Keith & Oesch, John M. & Pillutla, Madan, 2001. "Player Types and Self-Impression Management in Dictatorship Games: Two Experiments," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 37(2), pages 388-414, November.
    10. Urs Fischbacher, 2007. "z-Tree: Zurich toolbox for ready-made economic experiments," Experimental Economics, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 10(2), pages 171-178, June.
    11. Silvia Dominguez-Martinez & Randolph Sloof & Ferdinand von Siemens, 2010. "Monitoring your Friends, not your Foes: Strategic Ignorance and the Delegation of Real Authority," CESifo Working Paper Series 3172, CESifo Group Munich.
    12. Juan D. Carrillo & Thomas Mariotti, 2000. "Strategic Ignorance as a Self-Disciplining Device," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 67(3), pages 529-544.
    13. Conrads, Julian & Irlenbusch, Bernd, 2011. "Strategic Ignorance in Bargaining," IZA Discussion Papers 6087, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    14. Grossman, Zachary, 2010. "Self-Signaling Versus Social-Signaling in Giving," University of California at Santa Barbara, Economics Working Paper Series qt7320x2cp, Department of Economics, UC Santa Barbara.
    15. Tore Ellingsen & Magnus Johannesson, 2008. "Pride and Prejudice: The Human Side of Incentive Theory," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 98(3), pages 990-1008, June.
    16. Andrew Caplin & John Leahy, 2001. "Psychological Expected Utility Theory and Anticipatory Feelings," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 116(1), pages 55-79.
    17. Jason Dana & Roberto Weber & Jason Kuang, 2007. "Exploiting moral wiggle room: experiments demonstrating an illusory preference for fairness," Economic Theory, Springer;Society for the Advancement of Economic Theory (SAET), vol. 33(1), pages 67-80, October.
    18. Roberto Burlando & Francesco Guala, 2005. "Heterogeneous Agents in Public Goods Experiments," Experimental Economics, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 8(1), pages 35-54, April.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Snir, Avichai, 2014. "When choosing to be almost certain of winning can be better than choosing to win with certainty," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 36(C), pages 135-146.
    2. Kajackaite, Agne, 2015. "If I close my eyes, nobody will get hurt: The effect of ignorance on performance in a real-effort experiment," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 116(C), pages 518-524.
    3. Joël J. van der Weele & Ferdinand von Siemens, 2014. "Bracelets of Pride and Guilt? An Experimental Test of Self-Signaling in Charitable Giving," CESifo Working Paper Series 4674, CESifo Group Munich.
    4. Conrads, Julian & Irlenbusch, Bernd, 2013. "Strategic ignorance in ultimatum bargaining," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 92(C), pages 104-115.
    5. Gibson, Rajna & Tanner, Carmen & Wagner, Alexander F, 2014. "The Choice of Honesty: An Experiment Regarding Heterogeneous Responses to Situational Social Norms," CEPR Discussion Papers 9880, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    6. Mana Komai & Philip J. Grossman & Evelyne Benie, 2017. "Leadership and the effective choice of information regime," Theory and Decision, Springer, vol. 82(1), pages 117-129, January.

    More about this item


    Social and Behavioral Sciences; prosocial behavior; dictator games; strategic ignorance; self-signaling;

    NEP fields

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:cdl:ucsbec:qt0bp6z29t. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Lisa Schiff). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.