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Pledging one’s trustworthiness through gifts: An experiment

Giuseppe Danese and Luigi Mittone

Judgment and Decision Making, 2022, vol. 17, issue 5, 1123-1145

Abstract: Ethnographers have recorded many instances of tokens donated as gifts to attract new partners or strengthen ties to existing ones. We study whether gifts are an effective pledge of the donor’s trustworthiness through an experiment modeled on the trust game. We vary whether the trustee can send a token before the trustor decides whether to transfer money; whether one of the tokens is rendered salient through experimental manipulations (a vote or an incentive-compatible rule of purchase for the tokens); and whether the subjects interact repeatedly or are randomly re-matched in each round. Tokens are frequently sent in all studies in which tokens are available, but repeated interaction, rather than gifts, is the leading behavioral driver in our data. In the studies with random pairs, trustors send significantly more points when the trustee has sent a token. Subjects in a fixed matching achieve comparable levels of trust and trustworthiness in the studies with and without tokens. The trustee’s decision to send a token is not predictive of the amount the trustee returns to the trustor. A token is used more sparingly whenever salient — a novel instance of endogenous value creation in the lab.

Date: 2022
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