Empathy, Guilt-Aversion and Patterns of Reciprocity

CRENoS Working Paper 2011/08

34 Pages Posted: 24 Jun 2011

See all articles by Vittorio Pelligra

Vittorio Pelligra

Universita di Cagliari - Department of Economics

Date Written: June 2, 2011


This paper reports the results of an experiment aimed at investigating the link between empathy, anticipated guilt and pro-social behavior. In particular we test the hypothesis that empathy modulates the anticipatory effect of guilt in bargaining situations and, more specifically, that it correlates with subjects’ willingness to give and to repay trust in an investment game. We also control for the effect of individual risk attitude. Our main results show that empathy significantly influences players’ pattern of restitution in the investment game and that risk-propensity weakly affects the decision to trust; we also find a significant gender difference in the distribution of empathy.

These results seem to indicate that empathy affects pro-social behavior in a more complex way than previously hypothesized by existing models of social preferences.

Keywords: Trust, Reciprocity, Guilt-Aversion, Empathy

JEL Classification: D63, C78, C91

Suggested Citation

Pelligra, Vittorio, Empathy, Guilt-Aversion and Patterns of Reciprocity (June 2, 2011). CRENoS Working Paper 2011/08. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1871193 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1871193

Vittorio Pelligra (Contact Author)

Universita di Cagliari - Department of Economics ( email )

V. S. Ignazio 17
Cagliari 09123, CA 09123

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