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Building and Rebuilding Trust with Promises and Apologies


  • Schniter, Eric
  • Sheremeta, Roman
  • Sznycer, Daniel


Using trust games, we study how promises and messages are used to build new trust where it did not previously exist and to rebuild damaged trust. In these games, trustees made non-binding promises of investment-contingent returns, then investors decided whether to invest, and finally trustees decided how much to return. After an unexpected second game was announced, but before it commenced, trustees could send a one-way message. This design allowed us to observe the endogenous emergence and natural distribution of trust-relevant behaviors and focus on naturally occurring remedial strategies used by promise-breakers and distrusted trustees, their effects on investors, and subsequent outcomes. In the first game 16.6% of trustees were distrusted and 18.8% of trusted trustees broke promises. Trustees distrusted in the first game used long messages and promises closer to equal splits to encourage trust in the second game. To restore damaged trust, promise-breakers used apologies and upgraded promises. On average, investments in each game paid off for investors and trustees, suggesting that effective use of cheap signals fosters profitable trust-based exchange in these economies.

Suggested Citation

  • Schniter, Eric & Sheremeta, Roman & Sznycer, Daniel, 2013. "Building and Rebuilding Trust with Promises and Apologies," MPRA Paper 53596, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  • Handle: RePEc:pra:mprapa:53596

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    Cited by:

    1. repec:kap:expeco:v:20:y:2017:i:2:d:10.1007_s10683-016-9488-x is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Schniter, Eric & Sheremeta, Roman, 2014. "Predictable and Predictive Emotions: Explaining Cheap Signals and Trust Re-Extension," MPRA Paper 59665, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    3. Eric Schniter & Roman M. Sheremeta & Timothy W. Shields, 2013. "Limitations to Signaling Trust with All or Nothing Investments," Working Papers 13-24, Chapman University, Economic Science Institute.
    4. Kimbrough, Erik O. & Rubin, Jared & Sheremeta, Roman M. & Shields, Timothy W., 2015. "Commitment problems in conflict resolution," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 112(C), pages 33-45.
    5. Roman M. Sheremeta & Matthew W. McCarter, 2013. "You Can’t Put Old Wine in New Bottles: The Effect of Newcomers on Coordination in Groups," Working Papers 13-02, Chapman University, Economic Science Institute.
    6. Roman M. Sheremeta, 2013. "Overbidding And Heterogeneous Behavior In Contest Experiments," Journal of Economic Surveys, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 27(3), pages 491-514, July.
    7. Schniter, Eric & Sheremeta, Roman M. & Shields, Timothy W., 2015. "Conflicted emotions following trust-based interaction," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 51(C), pages 48-65.
    8. Johnsen, Åshild A & Kvaløy, Ola, 2014. "You always meet twice: An experiment on intrinsic versus instrumental reciprocity," UiS Working Papers in Economics and Finance 2014/2, University of Stavanger.
    9. Verena Utikal, 2013. "I am sorry - Honest and fake apologies," TWI Research Paper Series 81, Thurgauer Wirtschaftsinstitut, Universität Konstanz.
    10. Gambetta, Diego & Székely, Áron, 2014. "Signs and (counter)signals of trustworthiness," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 106(C), pages 281-297.
    11. Åshild A. Johnsen & Ola Kvaløy, 2014. "Does Instrumental Reciprocity Crowd out Prosocial Behavior?," CESifo Working Paper Series 5078, CESifo Group Munich.
    12. Schniter, Eric & Sheremeta, Roman & Shields, Timothy, 2015. "The Problem with All-or-nothing Trust Games: What Others Choose Not to Do Matters In Trust-based Exchange," MPRA Paper 68561, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    13. Johnsen, Åshild A. & Kvaløy, Ola, 2016. "Does strategic kindness crowd out prosocial behavior?," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 132(PA), pages 1-11.
    14. Ben Gilbert & Alexander James & Jason Shogren, 2017. "Corporate Apology for Environmental Damage," Working Papers 2017-02, University of Alaska Anchorage, Department of Economics.
    15. Dimitry Rtischev, 2016. "Evolution of Mindsight and Psychological Commitment among Strategically Interacting Agents," Games, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 7(3), pages 1-16, September.
    16. repec:eee:jeborg:v:137:y:2017:i:c:p:410-427 is not listed on IDEAS
    17. Yin, H., 2014. "Organizational architecture and pro-social behavior : Three essays," Other publications TiSEM d9fb03b9-cf92-4667-bd94-6, Tilburg University, School of Economics and Management.

    More about this item


    promise; atonement; apology; cheap talk; cheap signals; trust game; trust building; remedial strategies; reciprocity; experiments;

    JEL classification:

    • C72 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Game Theory and Bargaining Theory - - - Noncooperative Games
    • C91 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Individual Behavior


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