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Tax Compliance and Psychic Costs: Behavioral Experimental Evidence Using a Physiological Marker

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Listed:
  • Uwe Dulleck
  • Jonas Fooken
  • Cameron Newton
  • Andrea Ristl
  • Markus Schaffner
  • Benno Torgler

Abstract

Although paying taxes is a key element in a well-functioning civilized society, the understanding of why people pay taxes is still limited. What current evidence shows is that, given relatively low audit probabilities and penalties in case of tax evasion, compliance levels are higher than would be predicted by traditional economics-of-crime models. Models emphasizing that taxpayers make strategic, financially motivated compliance decisions, seemingly assume an overly restrictive view of human nature. Law abidance may be more accurately explained by social norms, a concept that has gained growing importance as a facet in better understanding the tax compliance puzzle. This study analyzes the relation between psychic cost arising from breaking social norms and tax compliance using a heart rate variability (HRV) measure that captures the psychobiological or neural equivalents of psychic costs (e.g., feelings of guilt or shame) that may arise from the contemplation of real or imagined actions and produce immediate consequential physiologic discomfort. Specifically, this nonintrusive HRV measurement method obtains information on activity in two branches of the autonomous nervous system (ANS), the excitatory sympathetic nervous system and the inhibitory parasympathetic system. Using time-frequency analysis of the (interpolated) heart rate signal, it identifies the level of activity (power) at different velocities of change (frequencies), whose LF (low frequency) to HF (high frequency band) ratio can be used as an index of sympathovagal balance or psychic stress. Our results, based on a large set of observations in a laboratory setting, provide empirical evidence of a positive correlation between psychic stress and tax compliance and thus underscore the importance of moral sentiment in the tax compliance context.

Suggested Citation

  • Uwe Dulleck & Jonas Fooken & Cameron Newton & Andrea Ristl & Markus Schaffner & Benno Torgler, 2012. "Tax Compliance and Psychic Costs: Behavioral Experimental Evidence Using a Physiological Marker," CREMA Working Paper Series 2012-19, Center for Research in Economics, Management and the Arts (CREMA).
  • Handle: RePEc:cra:wpaper:2012-19
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Christoph Engel, 2016. "Experimental Criminal Law. A Survey of Contributions from Law, Economics and Criminology," Discussion Paper Series of the Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods 2016_07, Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods.
    2. Lipatov Vilen, 2016. "Political Support and Civil Disobedience: A Social Interaction Approach," The B.E. Journal of Theoretical Economics, De Gruyter, vol. 16(2), pages 649-677, June.
    3. Benno Torgler, 2014. "Can Tax Compliance Research Profit from Biology?," CREMA Working Paper Series 2014-08, Center for Research in Economics, Management and the Arts (CREMA).
    4. repec:eee:jeborg:v:141:y:2017:i:c:p:96-109 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Koessler, Ann-Kathrin & Torgler, Benno & Feld, Lars P. & Frey, Bruno S., 2018. "Commitment to pay taxes: Results from field and laboratory experiments," Freiburg Discussion Papers on Constitutional Economics 18/06, Walter Eucken Institut e.V..
    6. Benno Torgler, 2014. "Can Tax Compliance Research Profit from Biology?," QuBE Working Papers 025, QUT Business School.
    7. Arbex, Marcelo & Carré, Justin M. & Geniole, Shawn N. & Mattos, Enlinson, 2018. "Tax evasion, testosterone and personality traits," Textos para discussão 466, FGV/EESP - Escola de Economia de São Paulo, Getulio Vargas Foundation (Brazil).
    8. repec:kap:jbuset:v:148:y:2018:i:3:d:10.1007_s10551-016-3031-z is not listed on IDEAS
    9. Ferrer-i-Carbonell, Ada & Gërxhani, Klarita, 2016. "Tax evasion and well-being: A study of the social and institutional context in Central and Eastern Europe," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 45(S), pages 149-159.
    10. repec:qut:qubewp:wp003 is not listed on IDEAS
    11. Mascagni, Giulia, 2017. "From the Lab to the Field: A Review of Tax Experiments," Working Papers 13726, Institute of Development Studies, International Centre for Tax and Development.
    12. Jonas Fooken & Markus Schaffner, 2013. "The role of psychological and physiological factors in decision making under risk and in a dilemma," QuBE Working Papers 010, QUT Business School.
    13. Marcelo Arbex & Justin M. Carre & Shawn N. Geniole & Enlinson Mattos, 2018. "Testosterone, personality traits and tax evasion," Working Papers 1801, University of Windsor, Department of Economics.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    tax compliance; psychic costs; stress; tax morale; cooperation; heart rate variability; biomarkers; experiment;

    JEL classification:

    • H26 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Tax Evasion and Avoidance
    • H41 - Public Economics - - Publicly Provided Goods - - - Public Goods
    • K42 - Law and Economics - - Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior - - - Illegal Behavior and the Enforcement of Law
    • D31 - Microeconomics - - Distribution - - - Personal Income and Wealth Distribution
    • D63 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement
    • C91 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Individual Behavior

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