Worth Keeping but Not Exceeding: Asymmetric Consequences of Breaking versus Exceeding Promises
26 Pages Posted: 14 Mar 2013
Date Written: November 10, 2011
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
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