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.
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