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Secret Santa: Anonymity, Signaling, and Conditional Cooperation


  • David Hugh-Jones

    (Max Planck Institute for Economics, Jena)

  • David Reinstein

    (Department of Economics, Essex University)


Costly signaling of commitment to a group has been proposed as an explanation for participation in religion and ritual. But if the signal's cost is too small, freeriders will send the signal and behave selflshly later. Effective signaling may then be prohibitively costly. If the average level of signaling in a group is observable, but individual effort is not, then freeriders can behave selflshly without being detected, and group members will learn about the average level of commitment among the group. We develop a formal model, and give examples of institutions that enable anonymous signaling, including ritual, religion, music and dance, voting, charitable donations, and military institutions. We explore the value of anonymity in the laboratory with a repeated two-stage public goods game with exclusion. When first-stage contributions are anonymous, subjects are better at predicting second-stage behavior, and maintain a substantially higher level of cooperation.

Suggested Citation

  • David Hugh-Jones & David Reinstein, 2009. "Secret Santa: Anonymity, Signaling, and Conditional Cooperation," Jena Economic Research Papers 2009-048, Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena.
  • Handle: RePEc:jrp:jrpwrp:2009-048

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Oliver Falck & Stephan Heblich & Elke Lüdemann, 2009. "Identity and Entrepreneurship," CESifo Working Paper Series 2661, CESifo Group Munich.
    2. repec:nbr:nberch:3044 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. AndrewE. Clark & Nicolai Kristensen & Niels Westergård-Nielsen, 2009. "Job Satisfaction and Co-worker Wages: Status or Signal?," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 119(536), pages 430-447, March.
    4. Davidsson, Per & Honig, Benson, 2003. "The role of social and human capital among nascent entrepreneurs," Journal of Business Venturing, Elsevier, vol. 18(3), pages 301-331, May.
    5. Ederer, Florian & Patacconi, Andrea, 2010. "Interpersonal comparison, status and ambition in organizations," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 75(2), pages 348-363, August.
    6. Mariassunta Giannetti & Andrei Simonov, 2009. "Social Interactions and Entrepreneurial Activity," Journal of Economics & Management Strategy, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 18(3), pages 665-709, September.
    7. Cramer, J. S. & Hartog, J. & Jonker, N. & Van Praag, C. M., 2002. "Low risk aversion encourages the choice for entrepreneurship: an empirical test of a truism," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 48(1), pages 29-36, May.
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    Cited by:

    1. Patel, Amrish & Cartwright, Edward & Mark, Van Vugt, 2010. "Punishment Cannot Sustain Cooperation in a Public Good Game with Free-Rider Anonymity," Working Papers in Economics 451, University of Gothenburg, Department of Economics.

    More about this item


    signaling; anonymity; public goods;

    JEL classification:

    • H41 - Public Economics - - Publicly Provided Goods - - - Public Goods

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