Self-Image and Willful Ignorance in Social Decisions

Forthcoming in the Journal of the European Economic Association

68 Pages Posted: 24 Mar 2013 Last revised: 27 Nov 2015

See all articles by Zachary Grossman

Zachary Grossman

UC Santa Barbara - Department of Economics

Joel J. van der Weele

University of Amsterdam - Center for Experimental Economics and political Decision making (CREED); Tinbergen Institute; Center for Financial Studies (CFS)

Date Written: March 21, 2013

Abstract

Avoiding information about adverse welfare consequences of self-interested decisions, or willful ignorance, is an important source of socially harmful behavior. We analyze a Bayesian signaling model of an agent who cares about self-image and has the opportunity to learn the social benefits of a personally costly action. We show that willful ignorance can serve as an excuse for selfish behavior by obfuscating the signal about the decision maker’s preferences, and serves to maintain the idea that the agent would have acted virtuously under full information. We derive several behavioral predictions that are inconsistent with either outcome-based preferences or social-image concern and conduct experiments to test them. Our findings, as well as a number of previous experimental results, offer support for these predictions and thus, the broader theory of self-signaling.

Keywords: prosocial behavior, dictator games, strategic ignorance, self-signaling

JEL Classification: D83, C72, C91

Suggested Citation

Grossman, Zachary and van der Weele, Joel J., Self-Image and Willful Ignorance in Social Decisions (March 21, 2013). Forthcoming in the Journal of the European Economic Association. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2237496 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2237496

Zachary Grossman

UC Santa Barbara - Department of Economics ( email )

2127 North Hall
Santa Barbara, CA 93106
United States

Joel J. Van der Weele (Contact Author)

University of Amsterdam - Center for Experimental Economics and political Decision making (CREED) ( email )

Roetersstraat 11
Amsterdam, 1018 WB
Netherlands

HOME PAGE: http://https://sites.google.com/site/joelvdweele/

Tinbergen Institute ( email )

Burg. Oudlaan 50
Rotterdam, 3062 PA
Netherlands

Center for Financial Studies (CFS) ( email )

Grüneburgplatz 1
Frankfurt am Main, 60323
Germany

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