Experimental Economics

, Volume 16, Issue 3, pp 306–312 | Cite as

Shifting the blame to a powerless intermediary

  • Regine OexlEmail author
  • Zachary J. Grossman


We extend the results of Bartling and Fischbacher (Rev. Econ. Stud. 79(1):67–87, 2012) by showing that, by delegating to an intermediary, a dictator facing an allocation decision can effectively shift blame onto the delegee even when doing so necessarily eliminates the possibility of a fair outcome. Dictators choosing selfishly via an intermediary are punished less and earn greater profits than those who do so directly. Despite being powerless to influence the fairness of the outcome, an intermediary given the choice between two unfair outcomes is punished more than when the dictator chooses one directly. This is not the case when the intermediary merely can initiate the random selection of one of the outcomes. Our findings reinforce and clarify the usefulness of agency as a tool to evade perceived culpability.


Intermediation Punishment Delegation Blame shifting 



We wish to thank Antonio Niocolò for many helpful discussions. We are also grateful for valuable comments from Gary Charness, Luca Corazzini, John Hamman, Marco Piovesan, two anonymous referees and the seminar participants at the International Meeting on Experimental and Behavioral Economics (IMEBE) 2011, Barcelona, 4th Maastricht Behavioral and Experimental Economics Symposium (M-BEES 2011), Maastricht and at the Work in Progress Seminar, Dipartimento di Economia Politica, Università degli Studi di Milano-Bicocca, May 2011.

Supplementary material

10683_2012_9335_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (305 kb)


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Copyright information

© Economic Science Association 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EconomicsUniversity of InnsbruckInnsbruckAustria
  2. 2.Department of EconomicsUniversity of California, Santa BarbaraSanta BarbaraUSA

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