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The Road to Hell: An Experimental Study of Intentions

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  • Charness, Gary
  • Levine, David I.

Abstract

Do people care about intentions? Good intentions often do not produce good results when a person tries to do something nice for someone else. In this paper, we ask under what circumstances do people pay attention to outcomes and under what circumstances do they focus on intentions. While the aphorism in the paper’s title suggests that outcomes play a larger role than intentions, our study questions this assumption. Some previous studies in economics suggest that the process determining an outcome affects responses to that outcome. Our experimental design improves upon previous methodology by introducing an element of chance in the wage-determination process in an experimental labor market. Using this device, we find that both intentions and outcomes matter; rates of punishment and reward are sensitive to both the wage a firm decides to pay and the (higher or lower) wage actually received after chance intervenes. We feature a specific comparison, in which workers receive identical wages either (1) after a high wage assignment and bad luck, or (2) after a low wage assignment and good luck. Despite identical wages and identical relative payoffs, workers’ responses differ greatly across these contingencies. Our data strongly support the role of intentions, with negative reciprocity overwhelming distributional considerations given low wages.

Suggested Citation

  • Charness, Gary & Levine, David I., 2003. "The Road to Hell: An Experimental Study of Intentions," University of California at Santa Barbara, Economics Working Paper Series qt4xs9d0nz, Department of Economics, UC Santa Barbara.
  • Handle: RePEc:cdl:ucsbec:qt4xs9d0nz
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Sutter, Matthias, 2007. "Outcomes versus intentions: On the nature of fair behavior and its development with age," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 28(1), pages 69-78, January.
    2. Gerald Eisenkopf & Urs Fischbacher, 2015. "Naïve Responses to Kind Delegation," Managerial and Decision Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 36(7), pages 487-498, October.
    3. Hoffmann, Magnus & Kolmar, Martin, 2017. "Distributional preferences in probabilistic and share contests," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 142(C), pages 120-139.
    4. Houser, Daniel & Xiao, Erte & McCabe, Kevin & Smith, Vernon, 2008. "When punishment fails: Research on sanctions, intentions and non-cooperation," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 62(2), pages 509-532, March.
    5. Ohana, Marc, 2009. "La réciprocité sur le marché du travail : les limites du laboratoire," L'Actualité Economique, Société Canadienne de Science Economique, vol. 85(2), pages 239-256, juin.

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