IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

Cooperation, reciprocity and self-esteem: A theoretical approach


  • Marcello Basili


  • Maurizio Franzini



Cooperation occurs even where it is not predicted by economic theory, owing to what is widely recognized as too narrow a conception of self-interest. In particular, relying on plenty of experimental evidence, it has been maintained that agents adopt such a strong reciprocity rules in their behavior as make it worthwhile to punish those who defect or do not act fairly, costly though as this may be. We propose to lay the analytical foundation of such behavior – and more generally to cooperation-proneness – by considering self-esteem. Agents may include self-esteem in their utility (or goal) function and actually produce or destroy self-esteem through their behavior. This amounts to introducing a moral system in individual behavior in such a way as to make it amenable to rational maximization. We also show how the impact of self-esteem on the best contract in Principal-Agents situations and how such impact differs in Moral Hazard and Adverse Selection situations.

Suggested Citation

  • Marcello Basili & Maurizio Franzini, 2007. "Cooperation, reciprocity and self-esteem: A theoretical approach," Department of Economic Policy, Finance and Development (DEPFID) University of Siena 007, Department of Economic Policy, Finance and Development (DEPFID), University of Siena.
  • Handle: RePEc:usi:depfid:007

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    Other versions of this item:

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Ernst Fehr & Simon Gachter & Georg Kirchsteiger, 1997. "Reciprocity as a Contract Enforcement Device: Experimental Evidence," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 65(4), pages 833-860, July.
    2. Jean Tirole & Roland Bénabou, 2006. "Incentives and Prosocial Behavior," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(5), pages 1652-1678, December.
    3. Roland Bénabou & Jean Tirole, 2006. "Belief in a Just World and Redistributive Politics," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 121(2), pages 699-746.
    4. George A. Akerlof & Rachel E. Kranton, 2000. "Economics and Identity," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 115(3), pages 715-753.
    5. repec:cup:apsrev:v:86:y:1992:i:02:p:404-417_08 is not listed on IDEAS
    6. Samuel Bowles & Herbert Gintis, 1998. "The Evolution of Strong Reciprocity," Research in Economics 98-08-073e, Santa Fe Institute.
    7. Gintis, Herbert, 2004. "Modeling cooperation among self-interested agents: a critique," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 33(6), pages 695-714, December.
    8. Marcello Basili & Cristina Duranti & Maurizio Franzini, 2004. "Networks, Trust and Institutional Complementarities," Rivista di Politica Economica, SIPI Spa, vol. 94(1), pages 159-180, January-F.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Marcello Basili & Antonio Nicita & Maria Alessandra Rossi, 2008. "Contracts and Motivations. The Case of Open Source," Department of Economics University of Siena 544, Department of Economics, University of Siena.

    More about this item


    self-esteem; reciprocity; motivation; incentive; agency.;

    JEL classification:

    • J41 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Particular Labor Markets - - - Labor Contracts
    • D64 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Altruism; Philanthropy; Intergenerational Transfers

    NEP fields

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:usi:depfid:007. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Carlo Zappia). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    If CitEc recognized a reference but did not link an item in RePEc to it, you can help with this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.