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Intentions, Insincerity, and Prosocial Behavior

Amegashie, J. Atsu (2006): Intentions, Insincerity, and Prosocial Behavior.

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Abstract

Consider a world with two people, 1 and 2, where person 1 (the proposer) may offer to help person 2 (the responder). The proposer may be altruistic towards the responder either out of a genuine desire to make her happy or out of guilt. The responder derives disutility from apparent acts of altruism motivated by guilt because she considers them to be insincere. She might reject some offers, depending on her beliefs about the proposer’s type. I model this social interaction as a game with interdependent preference types under incomplete information where the responder cares about the intentions behind the proposer’s prosocial behavior. I consider two recent formulations of endogenous guilt: simple guilt and guilt from blame. These formulations make the social interaction a psychological game. I find that the beliefs held by the players can lead to an equilibrium in which all offers are sincere and so no mutually beneficial trades are rejected, although the responder has incomplete information about the proposer’s type. Equilibria with insincere offers are possible under simple guilt but are impossible under guilt from blame. These results are applicable to both intrinsic and instrumental motivations for sincerity. I also discuss the implications of insincerity aversion for co-operation, altruism, political correctness, choice of identity, and trust.

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