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On self-serving strategic beliefs


Ging-Jehli, Nadja R; Schneider, Florian H; Weber, Roberto A (2019). On self-serving strategic beliefs. Working paper series / Department of Economics 315, University of Zurich.

Abstract

We experimentally study settings where an individual may have an incentive to adopt negative beliefs about another’s intentions in order to justify egoistic behavior. Our first study uses a game in which a player can take money from an opponent in order to prevent the opponent from subsequently causing harm. We hypothesize that players will justify taking by engaging in “strategic cynicism,” convincing themselves of the opponent’s ill intentions. We elicit incentivized beliefs both from players with such an incentive and from neutral third parties with no incentive to bias their beliefs. We find no difference between the two sets of beliefs, suggesting that people do not negatively bias their beliefs about a strategic opponent even when they have an incentive to do so. This result contrasts with Di Tella, et al. (2015), who argue that they provide evidence of strategic cynicism. We reconcile the discrepancy by using Di Tella, et al.’s, data, a simple model of strategic belief manipulation and a novel experiment in which we replicate Di Tella, et al.’s, experiment and also elicit the beliefs of neutral third parties. Across three experimental datasets, the results provide no evidence of negatively biased beliefs about others’ intentions. However, Di Tella, et al.’s, results and our novel data indicate that those with a greater incentive to view others’ intentions negatively exhibit relatively less positive beliefs than those without such incentives.

Abstract

We experimentally study settings where an individual may have an incentive to adopt negative beliefs about another’s intentions in order to justify egoistic behavior. Our first study uses a game in which a player can take money from an opponent in order to prevent the opponent from subsequently causing harm. We hypothesize that players will justify taking by engaging in “strategic cynicism,” convincing themselves of the opponent’s ill intentions. We elicit incentivized beliefs both from players with such an incentive and from neutral third parties with no incentive to bias their beliefs. We find no difference between the two sets of beliefs, suggesting that people do not negatively bias their beliefs about a strategic opponent even when they have an incentive to do so. This result contrasts with Di Tella, et al. (2015), who argue that they provide evidence of strategic cynicism. We reconcile the discrepancy by using Di Tella, et al.’s, data, a simple model of strategic belief manipulation and a novel experiment in which we replicate Di Tella, et al.’s, experiment and also elicit the beliefs of neutral third parties. Across three experimental datasets, the results provide no evidence of negatively biased beliefs about others’ intentions. However, Di Tella, et al.’s, results and our novel data indicate that those with a greater incentive to view others’ intentions negatively exhibit relatively less positive beliefs than those without such incentives.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Working Paper
Communities & Collections:03 Faculty of Economics > Department of Economics
Working Paper Series > Department of Economics
Dewey Decimal Classification:330 Economics
JEL Classification:C72, D83, C92
Uncontrolled Keywords:Motivated beliefs, strategic cynicism, bias, experiment
Language:English
Date:January 2019
Deposited On:28 Jan 2019 10:19
Last Modified:17 Sep 2019 20:06
Series Name:Working paper series / Department of Economics
Number of Pages:76
ISSN:1664-705X
OA Status:Green
Official URL:http://www.econ.uzh.ch/static/workingpapers.php?id=994

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