Experimental Economics

, Volume 22, Issue 2, pp 506–529 | Cite as

Nice to you, nicer to me: Does self-serving generosity diminish the reciprocal response?

  • Daniel Woods
  • Maroš ServátkaEmail author
Original Paper


Reciprocity has been shown to be sensitive to perceived intentions, however, not much is known about the intensity of reciprocal responses to the precise nature of those intentions. For example, a person can strategically appear to be kind while being self-serving or can be selflessly (genuinely) kind. Do these two intentions elicit different reciprocal reactions? We propose a conjecture that self-serving but generous actions diminish the positively reciprocal response, compared to selfless generous actions. We classify actions that increase a recipient’s maximum payoff, but by less than the giver’s maximum payoff, as being self-serving generous actions, while classifying actions that increase a recipient’s maximum payoff by more than the giver’s as selfless generous actions. We hypothesize that selfless generous actions are considered more generous than self-serving generous actions, and that self-serving generous actions will therefore result in a diminished reciprocal response. We test this conjecture using two novel experimental designs. We find some evidence that subjects perceive self-serving generous actions as being less generous than selfless generous actions, but no empirical support for our conjecture on the diminished reciprocal response.


Reciprocity Generosity Self-Serving Genuine Experiment Lost wallet game Investment game 

JEL Classification

C70 C91 



We would like to thank the editor Lata Gangadharan, Tim Cason, Jeremy Clark, Andreas Nicklisch, Vjollca Sadiraj, Daniel Schunk, Radovan Vadovič, and two anonymous referees for helpful comments, as well as participants of various conferences, workshops, and seminars where this work was presented. This paper is based on Daniel Woods’ Masters thesis written at the University of Canterbury (Woods 2013). Funding was provided by the College of Business and Economics, University of Canterbury and the Macquarie Graduate School of Management.

Supplementary material

10683_2018_9561_MOESM1_ESM.docx (145 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 144 kb)


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Copyright information

© Economic Science Association 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Purdue University, Krannert School of ManagementWest LafayetteUSA
  2. 2.Macquarie Graduate School of ManagementSydneyAustralia
  3. 3.University of EconomicsBratislavaSlovakia

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