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The Hidden Costs and Returns of Incentives - Trust and Trustworthiness among CEOs

  • E. Fehr
  • John A. List

We examine experimentally how Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) respond to incentives and how they provide incentives in situations requiring trust and trustworthiness. As a control we compare the behavior of CEOs with the behavior of students. We find that CEOs are considerably more trusting and exhibit more trustworthiness than students � thus reaching substantially higher efficiency levels than students. Moreover, we find that, for CEOs as well as for students, incentives based on explicit threats to penalize shirking backfire by inducing less trustworthy behavior � giving rise to hidden costs of incentives. However, the availability of penalizing incentives also creates hidden returns: if a principal expresses trust by voluntarily refraining from implementing the punishment threat, the agent exhibits significantly more trustworthiness than if the punishment threat is not available. Thus trust seems to reinforce trustworthy behavior. Overall, trustworthiness is highest if the threat to punish is available but not used, while it is lowest if the threat to punish is used. Paradoxically, however, most CEOs and students use the punishment threat, although CEOs use it significantly less.

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Paper provided by Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich in its series IEW - Working Papers with number 134.

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  17. Ernst Fehr & Bettina Rockenbach, 2003. "Detrimental effects of sanctions on human altruism," Microeconomics 0305007, EconWPA.
  18. Ernst Fehr & Georg Kirchsteiger & Arno Riedl, 1993. "Does Fairness Prevent Market Clearing? An Experimental Investigation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 108(2), pages 437-459.
  19. Camerer, Colin & Weigelt, Keith, 1988. "Experimental Tests of a Sequential Equilibrium Reputation Model," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 56(1), pages 1-36, January.
  20. R. Lynn Hannan & John H. Kagel & Donald V. Moser, 2002. "Partial Gift Exchange in an Experimental Labor Market: Impact of Subject Population Differences, Productivity Differences, and Effort Requests on Behavior," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 20(4), pages 923-951, October.
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