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Testing Theories of Reciprocity: Does Motivation Matter?



One of the key issues for understanding reciprocity is how people evaluate the kindness of an action. In this paper we argue that the motivation driving an action plays an important role for the reciprocating response to that action. We test experimentally the hypothesis that reciprocal behavior is stronger in response to actions driven by intrinsic motivation, as opposed to extrinsic motivation. Our results indicate that reciprocity is significantly stronger when extrinsic motivation can be ruled out, both at the aggregate and the individual level. These findings suggest that models of reciprocal behavior should take into account not only outcomes but also intentions and, in particular, motivations: the type of motivation of an action matters for its perceived kindness and, as a consequence, for reciprocity.

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  • Luca Stanca, Luigino Bruni, Luca Corazzini, 2007. "Testing Theories of Reciprocity: Does Motivation Matter?," ISLA Working Papers 29, ISLA, Centre for research on Latin American Studies and Transition Economies, Universita' Bocconi, Milano, Italy.
  • Handle: RePEc:slp:islawp:islawp29

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Ernst Fehr & Simon Gächter, 2000. "Fairness and Retaliation: The Economics of Reciprocity," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 14(3), pages 159-181, Summer.
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    5. Gary Bolton & Jordi Brandts & Axel Ockenfels, 1998. "Measuring Motivations for the Reciprocal Responses Observed in a Simple Dilemma Game," Experimental Economics, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 1(3), pages 207-219, December.
    6. Kevin Murdock, 2002. "Intrinsic Motivation and Optimal Incentive Contracts," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 33(4), pages 650-671, Winter.
    7. Gary Charness & Matthew Rabin, 1999. "Social preferences: Some simple tests and a new model," Economics Working Papers 441, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, revised Jan 2000.
    8. Armin Falk & Ernst Fehr & Urs Fischbacher, 2003. "On the Nature of Fair Behavior," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 41(1), pages 20-26, January.
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    13. Blount, Sally, 1995. "When Social Outcomes Aren't Fair: The Effect of Causal Attributions on Preferences," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 63(2), pages 131-144, August.
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    15. Gary Charness, 1996. "Attribution and reciprocity in a simulated labor market: An experimental investigation," Economics Working Papers 283, Department of Economics and Business, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, revised Oct 1997.
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    Cited by:

    1. 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.
    2. Stanca, Luca, 2009. "Measuring indirect reciprocity: Whose back do we scratch?," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 30(2), pages 190-202, April.
    3. Bonein, Aurélie & Serra, Daniel, 2007. "Another experimental look at reciprocal behavior: indirect reciprocity," MPRA Paper 3257, University Library of Munich, Germany, revised Mar 2007.
    4. 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.
    5. Gul, Faruk & Pesendorfer, Wolfgang, 2016. "Interdependent preference models as a theory of intentions," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 165(C), pages 179-208.

    More about this item


    Reciprocity; Intrinsic Motivation; Laboratory Experiments.;

    JEL classification:

    • D63 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement
    • C78 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Game Theory and Bargaining Theory - - - Bargaining Theory; Matching Theory
    • C91 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Individual Behavior

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