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Double Standards: Social Preferences and Moral Biases

Croson, Rachel and Konow, James (2007): Double Standards: Social Preferences and Moral Biases.

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A consensus seems to be emerging in economics that at least three motives are at work in many strategic decisions: distributive preferences, reciprocal preferences and self-interest. An important obstacle to this research, however, has been moral biases, i.e., the distortions created by self-interest that can obscure social preferences. Among other things, this has led to disagreement about the relative importance of distributive preferences, reciprocal preferences, or both. This paper describes a simple experiment that decomposes behavior into these three forces and examines their interactions without the confounds that have compromised other designs. We compare the decisions of implicated “stakeholders” with those of impartial “spectators,” who have no stake. Several surprising and interesting results emerge. For example, stakeholders respond less forcefully to kindness and unkindness towards them than do spectators acting on their behalf. We also find an asymmetry in reciprocity: stakeholders punish but do not reward, whereas spectators both reward and punish. This result suggests that the lack of positive reciprocity found in other studies is not due to an asymmetry in underlying reciprocal preferences but rather to a moral bias by stakeholders in the application of that preference. More generally, we find that all three hypothesized motives have important and significant effects on final allocations.

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