Promises, Expectations & Causation
19 Pages Posted: 26 Jun 2018
Date Written: June 1, 2018
Promises often foster trust and cooperation. A recent literature explores why. Two explanations have been proposed, and experimental tests provided some support and some controversy:
- Charness & Dufwenberg (2006) (C&D) propose an expectation-based explanation (EBE). People are guilt averse (GA): person i feels bad if he hurts j relative to j’s expectations. A promise from i to j, then, changes j’s expectation and i does not renege because he would feel guilty if he did.
- Vanberg (2008) proposes a commitment-based explanation (CBE) whereby “people have a preference for promise keeping per se” (p. 1468).
EBE thus combines GA with the idea (not implied by GA) that promises shape beliefs. CBE instead posits that promises have a direct causal effect on promise keeping because people have an intrinsic motivation to keep their word. The empirical implications of these two theories are substantially different.
Keywords: Promises, expectations, guilt aversion, moral commitment, causation
JEL Classification: A13, C91, D03, D64
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation