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You Owe Me

  • Malmendier, Ulrike M.
  • Schmidt, Klaus M.

In many cultures and industries gifts are given in order to influence the recipient, often at the expense of a third party. Examples include business gifts of firms and lobbyists. In a series of experiments, we show that, even without incentive or in-formational effects, small gifts strongly influence the recipient’s behavior in favor of the gift giver, in particular when a third party bears the cost. Subjects are well aware that the gift is given to influence their behavior but reciprocate nevertheless. Withholding the gift triggers a strong negative response. These findings are incon-sistent with the most prominent models of social preferences. We propose an ex-tension of existing theories to capture the observed behavior by endogenizing the “reference group” to whom social preferences are applied. We also show that dis-closure and size limits are not effective in reducing the effect of gifts, consistent with our model. Financial incentives ameliorate the effect of the gift but backfire when available but not provided.

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Paper provided by C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers in its series CEPR Discussion Papers with number 9230.

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Date of creation: Nov 2012
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Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:9230
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  1. Matthew Rabin., 1992. "Incorporating Fairness into Game Theory and Economics," Economics Working Papers 92-199, University of California at Berkeley.
  2. Ernst Fehr & Simon Gaechter, 2000. "Fairness and Retaliation: The Economics of Reciprocity," CESifo Working Paper Series 336, CESifo Group Munich.
  3. Faruk Gul & Wolfgang Pesendorfer, 2005. "The Canonical Type Space for Interdependent Preferences," Levine's Bibliography 784828000000000434, UCLA Department of Economics.
  4. Gary Charness & Matthew Rabin, 2002. "Understanding Social Preferences With Simple Tests," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 117(3), pages 817-869, August.
  5. Greiner, Ben, 2004. "An Online Recruitment System for Economic Experiments," MPRA Paper 13513, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  6. David K Levine, 1997. "Modeling Altruism and Spitefulness in Experiments," Levine's Working Paper Archive 2047, David K. Levine.
  7. John List & Uri Gneezy, 2006. "Putting behavioral economics to work: Testing for gift exchange in labor markets using field experiments," Natural Field Experiments 00259, The Field Experiments Website.
  8. Rabin, Matthew, 2000. "Risk Aversion and Expected-Utility Theory: A Calibration Theorem," Department of Economics, Working Paper Series qt731230f8, Department of Economics, Institute for Business and Economic Research, UC Berkeley.
  9. Strassmair, Christina, 2009. "Can intentions spoil the kindness of a gift? - An experimental study," Discussion Papers in Economics 10351, University of Munich, Department of Economics.
  10. Georg Kirchsteiger & Ernst Fehr & Arno Riedl, 1993. "Does Fairness Prevent Market Clearing? An Experimental Investigation," ULB Institutional Repository 2013/5927, ULB -- Universite Libre de Bruxelles.
  11. Urs Fischbacher, 2007. "z-Tree: Zurich toolbox for ready-made economic experiments," Experimental Economics, Springer, vol. 10(2), pages 171-178, June.
  12. Abbink, Klaus, 2004. "Staff rotation as an anti-corruption policy: an experimental study," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 20(4), pages 887-906, November.
  13. Axel Ockenfels & Gary E. Bolton, 2000. "ERC: A Theory of Equity, Reciprocity, and Competition," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(1), pages 166-193, March.
  14. Akerlof, George A, 1982. "Labor Contracts as Partial Gift Exchange," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 97(4), pages 543-69, November.
  15. Strassmair, Christina, 2009. "Can intentions spoil the kindness of a gift? - An experimental study," Discussion Paper Series of SFB/TR 15 Governance and the Efficiency of Economic Systems 302, Free University of Berlin, Humboldt University of Berlin, University of Bonn, University of Mannheim, University of Munich.
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