Actions and the Self: I Give, Therefore I am?

Front Psychol. 2021 Aug 10;12:684078. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.684078. eCollection 2021.

Abstract

Self-signaling models predict less selfish behavior in a probabilistic giving setting as individuals are expected to invest in a pro-social identity. However, there is also substantial evidence that people tend to exploit situational excuses for selfish choices (for instance, uncertainty) and behave more selfishly. We contrast these two motivations (identity management and self-deception) experimentally in order to test which one is more prevalent in a reciprocal giving setting. Trustees' back transfer choices are elicited for five different transfer levels of the trustor. Moreover, we ask trustees to provide their back transfer schedule for different scenarios that vary the implementation probability of the back transfer. This design allows us to identify subjects who reciprocate and analyze how these reciprocators respond when self-image relevant factors are varied. Our results indicate that self-deception is prevalent when subjects make the back transfer choice. Twice as many subjects seem to exploit situational excuses than subjects who appear to invest in a pro-social identity. JEL classifications: C72, C91, D80, D91.

Keywords: experiments; moral wiggle room; pro-social behavior; reciprocity; self-image concerns; self-signaling; social preferences.