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Status quo effects in fairness games: reciprocal responses to acts of commission versus acts of omission

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Abstract

Both the law and culture distinguish between acts of commission that overturn the status quo and acts of omission that uphold it. This distinction is of central importance when it comes to reciprocal actions. A stylized fact of everyday life is that acts of commission elicit stronger reciprocal responses than do acts of omission. We report experiments that directly test whether this stylized fact characterizes behavior in controlled experiments. We compare reciprocal responses to both types of acts in experiments using binary, extensive form games. Across three experiments, we examine the robustness of our results to different ways in which the status quo can be induced in experiments. The data show a clear difference between effects of acts of commission and omission by first movers on reciprocal responses by second movers.

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Notes

  1. For example, a waiter may be rewarded with an extremely large tip for going out of his way to serve a customer but might not be punished with a small tip for choosing not to fulfill an extraordinary request.

  2. Other joint tests for effects of reciprocity and status quo are reported in Cox et al. (2009, 2013), and Cox and Hall (2010).

  3. Cox et al. (2008) defines a partial ordering of feasible sets (More Generous Than) and a partial ordering of preferences (More Altruistic Than). Axiom R states a relationship between the two partial orderings. See the cited paper for formal development of the theory.

  4. The authors appreciate the generosity of Martin Dufwenberg in engaging in detailed private communication about the D&K model. A detailed explanation of why any pattern of Player B behavior in our experiment would be consistent with the D&K model is available from the authors on request. An extension of our experimental design to include beliefs elicitation could have testable implications for the D&K model.

  5. The model has previously done well with tests of data obtained from experiments reported in Huck et al. (2001), Andreoni et al. (2003), Cox (2004), Cox et al. (2008, 2009, 2013), and Cox and Hall (2010).

  6. There may be other models that are also capable of rationalizing both the data reported herein and the data from the many experiments included in the papers listed in footnote 5, but that is a question beyond the scope of the present paper.

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Acknowledgments

Helpful comments and suggestions were provided by the editor and referees and Giusseppe Attanasi, Martin Dufwenberg, Daniel Friedman, and Robert Slonim. Financial support for this study was provided by the University of Canterbury, College of Business and Economics. The Erskine Programme supported this research with a Visiting Erskine Fellowship awarded to James C. Cox to visit the University of Canterbury; he subsequently received support from the National Science Foundation (Grant Number SES-0849590).

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Correspondence to James C. Cox.

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Cox, J.C., Servátka, M. & Vadovič, R. Status quo effects in fairness games: reciprocal responses to acts of commission versus acts of omission. Exp Econ 20, 1–18 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10683-016-9477-0

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10683-016-9477-0

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