Surprising gifts: Theory and laboratory evidence

Kiryl Khalmetski, Axel Ockenfels, Peter Werner

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45 Citations (SciVal)
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People do not only feel guilt from not living up to others' expectations (Battigalli and Dufwenberg, 2007), but may also like to exceed them. We propose a model that generalizes the guilt aversion model to capture the possibility of positive surprises when making gifts. A model extension allows decision makers to care about others' attribution of intentions behind surprises. We test the model in a series of dictator game experiments. We find a strong causal effect of recipients' expectations on dictators' transfers. Moreover, in line with our model, the correlation between transfers and expectations can be both positive and negative, obscuring the effect in the aggregate. Finally, we provide evidence that dictators care about what recipients know about the intentions behind surprises.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)163-208
Number of pages46
JournalJournal of Economic Theory
Issue numberPart A
Early online date19 May 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2015


  • Guilt aversion
  • Surprise seeking
  • Dictator game
  • Consensus effect

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Economics and Econometrics


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