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Conscience Accounting: Emotional Dynamics and Social Behavior

  • Uri Gneezy
  • Alex Imas
  • Kristóf Madarász

We develop a dynamic model where people decide in the presence of moral constraints and test the predictions of the model through two experiments. Norm violations induce a temporal feeling of guilt that depreciates with time. Due to such fluctuations of guilt, people exhibit an endogenous temporal inconsistency in social preferences—a behavior we term conscience accounting. In our experiments people first have to make an ethical decision, and subsequently decide whether to donate to charity. We find that those who chose unethically were more likely to donate than those who did not. As predicted, donation rates were higher when the opportunity to donate came sooner after the unethical choice than later. Combined, our theoretical and empirical findings suggest a mechanism by which prosocial behavior is likely to occur within temporal brackets following an unethical choice.

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File URL: http://sticerd.lse.ac.uk/dps/te/te563.pdf
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Paper provided by Suntory and Toyota International Centres for Economics and Related Disciplines, LSE in its series STICERD - Theoretical Economics Paper Series with number /2012/563.

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Date of creation: Feb 2012
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Handle: RePEc:cep:stitep:/2012/563
Contact details of provider: Web page: http://sticerd.lse.ac.uk/_new/publications/default.asp

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  1. Card, David & Dahl, Gordon B., 2010. "Family Violence and Football: The Effect of Unexpected Emotional Cues on Violent Behavior," IZA Discussion Papers 4869, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  2. Gary Charness & Matthew Rabin, 2003. "Understanding Social Preferences with Simple Tests," General Economics and Teaching 0303002, EconWPA.
  3. Dreber, Anna & Johannesson, Magnus, 2008. "Gender differences in deception," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 99(1), pages 197-199, April.
  4. Andreoni, James, 1990. "Impure Altruism and Donations to Public Goods: A Theory of Warm-Glow Giving?," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 100(401), pages 464-77, June.
  5. George Loewenstein, Ted O'Donoghue and Matthew Rabin., 2000. "Projection Bias in Predicting Future Utility," Economics Working Papers E00-284, University of California at Berkeley.
  6. Andreas Lange & Craig Landry & John List & Michael Price & Nicholas Rupp, 2006. "Toward an understanding of the economics of charity: Evidence from a field experiment," Natural Field Experiments 00292, The Field Experiments Website.
  7. George A. Akerlof & Rachel E. Kranton, 2000. "Economics And Identity," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 115(3), pages 715-753, August.
  8. Stephan Meier, 2006. "Do subsidies increase charitable giving in the long run?: matching donations in a field experiment," Working Papers 06-18, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
  9. Andreas Blume & Uri Gneezy, 2009. "Cognitive Forward Induction and Coordination without Common Knowledge: An Experimental Study," Working Papers 346, University of Pittsburgh, Department of Economics, revised May 2009.
  10. Becker, Gary S, 1976. "Altruism, Egoism, and Genetic Fitness: Economics and Sociobiology," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 14(3), pages 817-26, September.
  11. Harris, Christopher J, 1985. "Existence and Characterization of Perfect Equilibrium in Games of Perfect Information," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 53(3), pages 613-28, May.
  12. Uri Gneezy, 2005. "Deception: The Role of Consequences," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(1), pages 384-394, March.
  13. Jon Elster, 1998. "Emotions and Economic Theory," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 36(1), pages 47-74, March.
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