Promises and Expectations

34 Pages Posted: 18 Dec 2013 Last revised: 16 Mar 2016

Florian Ederer

Yale University - School of Management; Yale University - Cowles Foundation

Alexander Stremitzer

UCLA School of Law

Date Written: March 14, 2016


We investigate why people keep their promises in the absence of external enforcement mechanisms and reputational effects. In a controlled laboratory experiment we show that exogenous variation of second-order expectations (promisors' expectations about promisees' expectations that the promise will be kept) leads to a significant change in promisor behavior. We provide clean evidence that a promisor's aversion to disappointing a promisee's expectation leads her to keep her promise. We propose a simple theory of lexicographic promise keeping that is supported by our results and nests the findings of previous contributions as special cases.

Keywords: Promises, Expectations, Beliefs, Contracts

JEL Classification: A13, C91, D03, C72, D64, K12

Suggested Citation

Ederer, Florian and Stremitzer, Alexander, Promises and Expectations (March 14, 2016). Cowles Foundation Discussion Paper No. 1931. Available at SSRN: or

Florian Ederer (Contact Author)

Yale University - School of Management ( email )

165 Whitney Avenue
New Haven, CT 06511
United States


Yale University - Cowles Foundation ( email )

Box 208281
New Haven, CT 06520-8281
United States

Alexander Stremitzer

UCLA School of Law ( email )

405 Hilgard Avenue
Box 90095-1476
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1476
United States


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