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

Daniel Woods, Maroš Servátka*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)506-529
Number of pages24
JournalExperimental Economics
Issue number2
Early online date2018
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • reciprocity
  • generosity
  • self-serving
  • genuine
  • experiment
  • lost wallet game
  • investment game


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