Journal of Business Economics

, Volume 87, Issue 9, pp 1129–1150 | Cite as

On the duty to give (and not to take): An experiment on moralistic punishment

  • Rainer Michael RilkeEmail author
Original Paper


Organizations aim to influence—via their internal guidelines and corporate culture—how unfair treatment of other stakeholders is perceived and condemned by employees. To understand how different frames and forms of publicity influence moralistic punishment, that is, the willingness of employees to take costs in order to foster norm compliance, we employ a modified version of a dictator game. In our dictator game, a bystander observes a dictator’s behavior towards a recipient and can punish the dictator. We vary how the dictator’s action is framed (either as giving money to the recipient or taking money from the recipient) and whether or not the recipient, as a victim of unfair behavior, is informed about the punishment. Our results suggest that bystanders are more likely to punish dictators when their action is framed as giving rather than taking, although both lead to the same consequences. When bystanders cannot inform recipients about their punishment, less punishment can be observed. On average, dictators partially anticipate this effect and behave more generously when recipients are informed about the bystanders’ punishment.


Moralistic punishment Compliance Framing Social-image concerns 

JEL Classification

C91 D63 D64 



I would like to thank both editors and two anonymous referees for their comments and suggestions. Additionally, I would like to thank Julian Conrads, Gary Charness, Bernd Irlenbusch, Andrew Kinder, Felix Kölle, Tommaso Reggiani, Arne Weiss, Gari Walkowitz, and Daniel Wiesen for their their valuable comments during the development of the research. Anja Bodenschatz, Katharina Peeters, and Lisa Klinger were helpful in providing research assistance. Financial support from the DFG-Forschergruppe Design and Behavior (TP3 Design of Incentives Schemes within Firms) and through the Leibniz-Award to Axel Ockenfels is gratefully acknowledged.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Economics GroupWHU - Otto Beisheim School of ManagementVallendarGermany

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