Norms and Guilt

25 Pages Posted: 28 Jun 2018

See all articles by Anasatsia Danilov

Anasatsia Danilov

University of Cologne

Kiryl Khalmetski

University of Cologne

Dirk Sliwka

University of Cologne - Faculty of Management, Economics and Social Sciences; IZA Institute of Labor Economics

Date Written: May 02, 2018


It has been argued that guilt aversion (the aversion to violate others’ expectations) and the compliance to descriptive social norms (the aversion to act differently than others in the same situation) are important drivers of human behavior. We show in a formal model that both motives are empirically indistinguishable when only one benchmark (another person’s expectation or a norm) is revealed as each of these benchmarks signals information on the other one. To address this problem, we experimentally study how individuals react when both benchmarks are revealed simultaneously. We find that both types of information affect transfers in the dictator game. At the same time, the effect of the recipient’s expectation is non-monotonic as dictators use the disclosed expectation in a self-serving way to decrease transfers.

Keywords: guilt aversion, social norms, conformity, dictator game

JEL Classification: C910, D830, D840

Suggested Citation

Danilov, Anastasia and Khalmetski, Kiryl and Sliwka, Dirk, Norms and Guilt (May 02, 2018). CESifo Working Paper Series No. 6999. Available at SSRN:

Anastasia Danilov

University of Cologne ( email )

Kiryl Khalmetski

University of Cologne ( email )

Universitätsstraße 22a
Cologne, 50937

Dirk Sliwka (Contact Author)

University of Cologne - Faculty of Management, Economics and Social Sciences ( email )

Richard-Strauss-Str. 2
Cologne, D-50923

IZA Institute of Labor Economics

P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072

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