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Promises and Opportunity Cost

Sengupta, Arjun ; Vanberg, Christoph

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This paper experimentally investigates the hypothesis that promise-keeping behavior is affected by the opportunities that a counterpart foregoes by relying on the promise. We present two motivational mechanisms that could drive such an effect. One is that people dislike causing harm through a promise, and the natural way to measure such harm is to take into account what the counterpart would have received had she not relied on the promise. The other is that people may dislike causing regret in another person. We test these ideas in the context of an experimental trust game. The main treatment variable is the payoff that the first mover forgoes if he “trusts”. Consistent with our main hypothesis, we find that an increase in this foregone payoff increases promise-keeping behavior. The experiment is designed to rule out alternative explanations for such an effect. Our evidence suggests that the mechanism driving the effect may involve an aversion to causing regret in others.

Item Type: Working paper
Series Name: Discussion Paper Series / University of Heidelberg, Department of Economics
Volume: 0692
Place of Publication: Heidelberg
Date Deposited: 27 Oct 2020 12:46
Date: October 2020
Number of Pages: 51
Faculties / Institutes: The Faculty of Economics and Social Studies > Alfred-Weber-Institut for Economics
Subjects: 330 Economics
Schriftenreihe ID: Discussion Paper Series / University of Heidelberg, Department of Economics
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