IDEAS home Printed from
MyIDEAS: Log in (now much improved!) to save this paper

Does willful ignorance deflect punishment? – An experimental study

  • Björn Bartling
  • Florian Engl
  • Roberto A. Weber

This paper studies whether people can avoid punishment by remaining willfully ignorant about possible negative consequences of their actions for others. We employ a laboratory experiment, using modified dictator games in which a dictator can remain willfully ignorant about the payoff consequences of his decision for a receiver. A third party can punish the dictator after observing the dictator’s decision and the resulting payoffs. On the one hand, willfully ignorant dictators are punished less if their actions lead to unfair outcomes than dictators who reveal the consequences before implementing the same outcome. On the other hand, willfully ignorant dictators are punished more than revealing dictators if their actions do not lead to unfair outcomes. We conclude that willful ignorance can circumvent blame when unfair outcomes result, but that the act of remaining willfully ignorant is itself punished, regardless of the outcome.

If you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.

File URL:
Download Restriction: no

Paper provided by Department of Economics - University of Zurich in its series ECON - Working Papers with number 125.

in new window

Date of creation: Jun 2013
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:zur:econwp:125
Contact details of provider: Postal:
Schönberggasse 1, CH-8001 Zürich

Phone: +41-1-634 21 37
Fax: +41-1-634 49 82
Web page:

More information through EDIRC

References listed on IDEAS
Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:

as in new window
  1. Falk, Armin & Fischbacher, Urs, 2006. "A theory of reciprocity," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 54(2), pages 293-315, February.
  2. Ernst Fehr & Urs Fischbacher, . "Third Party Punishment and Social Norms," IEW - Working Papers 106, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.
  3. Rabin, Matthew, 1993. "Incorporating Fairness into Game Theory and Economics," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(5), pages 1281-1302, December.
  4. Kagel, John H. & Kim, Chung & Moser, Donald, 1996. "Fairness in Ultimatum Games with Asymmetric Information and Asymmetric Payoffs," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 13(1), pages 100-110, March.
  5. Roth, Alvin E & Murnighan, J Keith, 1982. "The Role of Information in Bargaining: An Experimental Study," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 50(5), pages 1123-42, September.
  6. Nikos Nikiforakis & Helen Mitchell, 2013. "Mixing the Carrots with the Sticks : Third Party Punishment and Reward," Working Papers 1338, Groupe d'Analyse et de Théorie Economique (GATE), Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS), Université Lyon 2, Ecole Normale Supérieure.
  7. Alexander W. Cappelen & James Konow & Erik ?. S?rensen & Bertil Tungodden, 2013. "Just Luck: An Experimental Study of Risk-Taking and Fairness," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 103(4), pages 1398-1413, June.
  8. Bruno S. Frey & Matthias Benz & Alois Stutzer, . "Introducing Procedural Utility: Not only What, but also How Matters," IEW - Working Papers 129, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.
  9. Mehmet Y. Gurdal & Joshua B. Miller & Aldo Rustichini, 2013. "Why Blame?," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 121(6), pages 1205 - 1247.
  10. Trautmann, Stefan T., 2009. "A tractable model of process fairness under risk," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 30(5), pages 803-813, October.
  11. Ockenfels, Axel & Werner, Peter, 2012. "‘Hiding behind a small cake’ in a newspaper dictator game," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 82(1), pages 82-85.
  12. Fehr, Ernst & Schmidt, Klaus M., . "A theory of fairness, competition, and cooperation," Chapters in Economics, University of Munich, Department of Economics.
  13. Conrads, Julian & Irlenbusch, Bernd, 2011. "Strategic Ignorance in Bargaining," IZA Discussion Papers 6087, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  14. Zephyr, 2010. "The city," City, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 14(1-2), pages 154-155, February.
  15. Björn Bartling & Urs Fischbacher, 2012. "Shifting the Blame: On Delegation and Responsibility," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 79(1), pages 67-87.
  16. Dufwenberg, M. & Kirchsteiger, G., 1998. "A Theory of Sequential Reciprocity," Discussion Paper 1998-37, Tilburg University, Center for Economic Research.
  17. Gary E. Bolton & Jordi Brandts & Axel Ockenfels, 2000. "Fair Procedures. Evidence from Games Involving Lotteries," UFAE and IAE Working Papers 483.01, Unitat de Fonaments de l'Anàlisi Econòmica (UAB) and Institut d'Anàlisi Econòmica (CSIC).
  18. Nisvan Erkal & Lata Gangadharan & Nikos Nikiforakis, 2009. "Relative Earnings and Giving in a Real-Effort Experiment," Department of Economics - Working Papers Series 1067, The University of Melbourne.
  19. Kota Saito, 2013. "Social Preferences under Risk: Equality of Opportunity versus Equality of Outcome," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 103(7), pages 3084-3101, December.
  20. Fudenberg, Drew & Levine, David K., 2012. "Fairness, risk preferences and independence: Impossibility theorems," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 81(2), pages 606-612.
  21. James Andreoni & B. Douglas Bernheim, 2009. "Social Image and the 50-50 Norm: A Theoretical and Experimental Analysis of Audience Effects," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 77(5), pages 1607-1636, 09.
  22. John R. Hamman & George Loewenstein & Roberto A. Weber, 2010. "Self-Interest through Delegation: An Additional Rationale for the Principal-Agent Relationship," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 100(4), pages 1826-46, September.
  23. Allen McDowell, 2003. "From the help desk: hurdle models," Stata Journal, StataCorp LP, vol. 3(2), pages 178-184, June.
  24. Sebald, Alexander, 2010. "Attribution and reciprocity," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 68(1), pages 339-352, January.
  25. Conrads, Julian & Irlenbusch, Bernd, 2013. "Strategic ignorance in ultimatum bargaining," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 92(C), pages 104-115.
  26. Broberg, Tomas & Ellingsen, Tore & Johannesson, Magnus, 2007. "Is generosity involuntary?," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 94(1), pages 32-37, January.
  27. Michal Krawczyk & Fabrice Le Lec, 2010. "‘Give me a chance!’ An experiment in social decision under risk," Experimental Economics, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 13(4), pages 500-511, December.
  28. Dana, Jason & Cain, Daylian M. & Dawes, Robyn M., 2006. "What you don't know won't hurt me: Costly (but quiet) exit in dictator games," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 100(2), pages 193-201, July.
  29. Michal Krawczyk, 2011. "A model of procedural and distributive fairness," Theory and Decision, Springer, vol. 70(1), pages 111-128, January.
  30. Axel Ockenfels & Gary E. Bolton, 2000. "ERC: A Theory of Equity, Reciprocity, and Competition," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(1), pages 166-193, March.
  31. Jason Dana & Roberto Weber & Jason Kuang, 2007. "Exploiting moral wiggle room: experiments demonstrating an illusory preference for fairness," Economic Theory, Springer;Society for the Advancement of Economic Theory (SAET), vol. 33(1), pages 67-80, October.
  32. Edward P. Lazear & Ulrike Malmendier & Roberto A. Weber, 2012. "Sorting in Experiments with Application to Social Preferences," American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, American Economic Association, vol. 4(1), pages 136-63, January.
  33. Urs Fischbacher, 2007. "z-Tree: Zurich toolbox for ready-made economic experiments," Experimental Economics, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 10(2), pages 171-178, June.
  34. J. Michelle Brock & Andreas Lange & Erkut Y. Ozbay, 2013. "Dictating the Risk: Experimental Evidence on Giving in Risky Environments," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 103(1), pages 415-37, February.
Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:zur:econwp:125. 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: (Marita Kieser)

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 references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.

If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link 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 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.

This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.