The Short Arm of Guilt – An Experiment on Group Identity and Guilt Aversion

37 Pages Posted: 2 Dec 2014 Last revised: 17 May 2018

See all articles by Alexander Morell

Alexander Morell

Goethe University Frankfurt - Faculty of Law

Date Written: May 2018


In a laboratory experiment, I test whether guilt aversion, i.e., a preference to fulfill the expectations of others, plays out more strongly if agents share an induced social identity. Participants play a dictator game in which they can condition their amount sent on recipients’ beliefs. Dictators either play with a recipient from their own group (ingroup treatment) or from the other group (outgroup treatment). I find that the positive influence of second-order beliefs on how much a dictator sends is stronger in the ingroup treatment. However, the way dictators react to very high expectations does not differ significantly between treatments. In contrast to previous work I do not find that amounts sent are an inversely u-shaped function of recipients’ expectations. Rather, and independently of the treatment, participants tend to ignore very high expectations.

Keywords: Guilt Aversion, Social Identity, Beliefs, Generosity, Experiment, Psychological Game Theory

JEL Classification: A13, C72, C91, D64, D84

Suggested Citation

Morell, Alexander, The Short Arm of Guilt – An Experiment on Group Identity and Guilt Aversion (May 2018). MPI Collective Goods Preprint, No. 2014/19, Available at SSRN: or

Alexander Morell (Contact Author)

Goethe University Frankfurt - Faculty of Law ( email )


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