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Broken Promises: An Experiment

  • Charness, Gary B
  • Dufwenberg, Martin

We test whether promises per se are effective in enhancing cooperative behavior in a form of trust game. In a new treatment, rather than permitting free-form messages, we instead allow only a bare promise-only message to be sent (or not). We find that bare promises are much less effective in achieving good social outcomes than free-form messages; in fact, bare promise-only messages lead to behavior that is much the same as when no messages are feasible. Our design also permits us to test the predictions of guilt aversion against the predictions of lying aversion. Our experimental results provide evidence that mainly supports the guilt-aversion predictions, but we also find some support for the presence of lying aversion.

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Paper provided by Department of Economics, UC Santa Barbara in its series University of California at Santa Barbara, Economics Working Paper Series with number qt6836m74q.

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Date of creation: 06 Aug 2008
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Handle: RePEc:cdl:ucsbec:qt6836m74q
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  1. Charness, Gary & Rabin, Matthew, 2002. "Understanding Social Preferences with Simple Tests," Department of Economics, Working Paper Series qt3d04q5sm, Department of Economics, Institute for Business and Economic Research, UC Berkeley.
  2. Andersen, Steffen & Fountain, John & Harrison, Glenn W. & Rutström, Elisabet, 2009. "Eliciting Beliefs," Working Papers 03-2009, Copenhagen Business School, Department of Economics.
  3. Gary Charness & Martin Dufwenberg, 2004. "Promises and Partnership," Levine's Bibliography 122247000000000001, UCLA Department of Economics.
  4. Jordi Brandts & Gary Charness, 2003. "Truth or Consequences: An Experiment," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 49(1), pages 116-130, January.
  5. Tore Ellingsen & Magnus Johannesson, 2004. "Promises, Threats and Fairness," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 114(495), pages 397-420, 04.
  6. V. Crawford & J. Sobel, 2010. "Strategic Information Transmission," Levine's Working Paper Archive 544, David K. Levine.
  7. Avner Ben-Ner & Louis Putterman & Ting Ren, 2007. "Lavish Returns on Cheap Talk: Non-binding Communication in a Trust Experiment," Working Papers 2007-15, Brown University, Department of Economics.
  8. Geanakoplos, John & Pearce, David & Stacchetti, Ennio, 1989. "Psychological games and sequential rationality," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 1(1), pages 60-79, March.
  9. Green, Jerry R. & Stokey, Nancy L., 2007. "A two-person game of information transmission," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 135(1), pages 90-104, July.
  10. Uri Gneezy, 2005. "Deception: The Role of Consequences," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(1), pages 384-394, March.
  11. Cooper, Russell, et al, 1992. "Communication in Coordination Games," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 107(2), pages 739-71, May.
  12. Crawford, Vincent, 1998. "A Survey of Experiments on Communication via Cheap Talk," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 78(2), pages 286-298, February.
  13. Russell Cooper & Douglas V. DeJong & Robert Forsythe & Thomas W. Ross, 1989. "Communication in the Battle of the Sexes Game: Some Experimental Results," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 20(4), pages 568-587, Winter.
  14. Navin Kartik, 2009. "Strategic Communication with Lying Costs," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 76(4), pages 1359-1395.
  15. Ellingsen, Tore & Johannesson, Magnus & Tjøtta, Sigve & Torsvik, Gaute, 2010. "Testing guilt aversion," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 68(1), pages 95-107, January.
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