Descriptive Norms and Guilt Aversion

Anastasia Danilov, Kiryl Khalmetski, Dirk Sliwka

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (SciVal)
36 Downloads (Pure)


It has been argued that guilt aversion (the desire to meet others’ expectations) and the social norm compliance (the desire to act similarly to other individuals in the same situation) are important drivers of human behavior. However, as we show in a theoretical model, these two motives are empirically indistinguishable when only one signal (either the expectation of a person affected by the choice or a signal about the descriptive norm) is revealed as each of these signals transmit information on the other benchmark. We address this problem by running an experiment in which signals for both benchmarks are revealed simultaneously. We find that both types of information affect dictator transfers in a one-shot game, yet the information about the behavior of others has a stronger effect than the disclosed recipient's expectation. The effect of the recipient's expectation is non-monotonic and becomes negative for very high expectations. We provide further evidence for the importance of guilt aversion in a second experiment where we display the recipient's expectation and the expectation of a randomly picked recipient of another dictator.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)293-311
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Economic Behavior and Organization
Early online date25 Sept 2021
Publication statusPublished - 30 Nov 2021


  • Conformity
  • Dictator game
  • Experiment
  • Guilt aversion
  • Social norms

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management


Dive into the research topics of 'Descriptive Norms and Guilt Aversion'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this