Worth Keeping but Not Exceeding: Asymmetric Consequences of Breaking versus Exceeding Promises

26 Pages Posted: 14 Mar 2013  

Ayelet Gneezy

University of California, San Diego (UCSD) - Rady School of Management

Nicholas Epley

University of Chicago - Booth School of Business

Date Written: November 10, 2011

Abstract

Promises are social contracts that can be broken, kept, or exceeded. Breaking one's promise is evaluated more negatively than keeping one's promise. Does expending more effort to exceed a promise lead to equivalently more positive evaluations? Although linear in their outcomes, we expected an asymmetry in evaluations of broken, kept, and exceeded promises. Whereas breaking one's promise is obviously negative compared to keeping a promise, we predicted that exceeding one's promise would not be evaluated more positively than merely keeping a promise. Three sets of experiments involving hypothetical, recalled, and actual promises support these predictions. A final experiment suggests this asymmetry comes from overvaluing kept promises rather than undervaluing exceeded promises. We propse this pattern may reflect a general tendency in social systems to discourage selfishness and reward cooperation. Breaking one's promise is costly, but exceeding it does not appear worth the effort.

Keywords: Promises, Fairness, Trust

Suggested Citation

Gneezy, Ayelet and Epley, Nicholas, Worth Keeping but Not Exceeding: Asymmetric Consequences of Breaking versus Exceeding Promises (November 10, 2011). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2233670 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2233670

Ayelet Gneezy (Contact Author)

University of California, San Diego (UCSD) - Rady School of Management ( email )

9500 Gilman Drive
Rady School of Management
La Jolla, CA 92093
United States

Nicholas Epley

University of Chicago - Booth School of Business ( email )

5807 S. Woodlawn Avenue
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

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