Social preferences and moral biases

Rachel Croson, James Konow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

54 Scopus citations


An emerging consensus in economics is that three motives are at work in strategic decisions: distributive preferences, reciprocal preferences and self-interest. An important obstacle, however, has been moral biases: distortions created by self-interest can obscure our measures of social preferences. This paper describes a simple experiment to address this. We compare the decisions of implicated "stakeholders" with those of impartial "spectators." We find that stakeholders are less inclined to respond to the generosity of others than are spectators. We also clarify a result in previous research [e.g., Offerman, T., 2002. Hurting hurts more than helping helps. European Economic Review 46, 1423-1437] that stakeholders punish unkindness more than they reward kindness. We find that this asymmetry in reciprocity has two sources: an asymmetry in the underlying preference that even impartial spectators display and a moral bias; stakeholders punish more and reward less than spectators. In sum, we find that all three motives have important and significant effects on final allocations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)201-212
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Economic Behavior and Organization
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2009
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank the editor and two referees of this journal, Alexander Cappelen, Gary Charness, Simon Gächter, David George, Bertil Tungodden, participants of seminars at the Norwegian School of Economics and Business, Notre Dame University, the University of Oslo, and at meetings of the Allied Social Science Association, Economic Science Association, Asia Pacific Economic Science Association, and Public Choice Society for helpful comments and suggestions. Professor Croson acknowledges support from NSF SBR-9876079. We assume all responsibility for any remaining errors.


  • Fairness
  • Justice
  • Moral bias
  • Reciprocity


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