Essays on promises, trust and disclosure

This thesis consists of three essays:

Disclosing Advisor’s Interests Neither Hurts nor Helps
We set up an experiment to study whether disclosure of the advisor’s interests can foster truthfulness and trust. We measure how advisors expect decisionmakers to react to their advice in order to distinguish between strategic and moral reactions to disclosure by advisors. Results indicate that advisors do not expect decision makers to react drastically to disclosure. Also, we do not find support for the moral licencing effect of disclosure. Overall, we fail to reject the null hypotheses that deceptive advice and mistrust are equally frequent with as without disclosure.

Testing the Internal Consistency Explanation of Promise Keeping
We implement a trust game in which the trustee can write a free-form pre-play message for the trustor. The twist in our design is that there is a 50% probability that the message is delivered to the trustor and a 50% probability that the message is replaced by an empty sheet. We find that, even when messages are not delivered, trustees who make a promise are more likely to act trustworthy than those who do not make a promise. We run a control treatment with restricted (non-promise) communication to test whether the correlation between promises and trustworthiness is causal in the sense that promises create a commitment. The results show that the absence of promises does not decrease average cooperation rates. This indicates that promises do not cause trustworthiness, they are just more likely to be sent by cooperators than by non-cooperators. We also find that both trustees who make a promise and those who do not make a promise are more likely to be trustworthy if their message is delivered to the trustor. This suggests that communication increases trustworthiness irrespective of the content of messages.

Do People Ask for a Promise? And Should They?
We setup an experiment with pre-play communication to study the impact of promise elicitation by trustors from trustees on trust and trustworthiness. When given the opportunity the majority of trustors solicit a promise from the trustee and this drives up the promise making rate by trustees to almost 100%. We find that elicited promises are more likely to be trusted than volunteered promises, but trustees who make an elicited promise are no more likely to be trustworthy than trustees who make a volunteered promise. Overall, our results seem to suggest that when given the opportunity asking for a promise is better than not asking for it because trustees who do not make a promise when not asked to do so are very unlikely to be trustworthy.

Netspar, Network for Studies on Pensions, Aging and Retirement, is a thinktank and knowledge network. Netspar is dedicated to promoting a wider understanding of the economic and social implications of pensions, aging and retirement in the Netherlands and Europe.


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