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Altruism, Inequity Concerns, And Morality

Paper Session

Friday, Jan. 7, 2022 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM (EST)

Hosted By: American Economic Association
  • Chair: Ingela Alger, Toulouse School of Economics, CNRS, University of Toulouse, Institute for Advance Study in Toulouse

Disguising Prejudice: Popular Rationales as Excuses for Intolerant Expression

Leonardo Bursztyn
University of Chicago and NBER
Ingar Haaland
University of Bergen and CESifo
Aakaash Rao
Harvard University
Christopher Roth
University of Warwick, briq, CEPR, CESifo, and CAGE


We study how popular rationales enable public anti-minority actions. Rationales to oppose minorities genuinely persuade some people, but they also serve as “excuses” that may reduce the
stigma associated with anti-minority expression. In a first experiment, people who donated to an
anti-immigrant organization are seen as less intolerant if they were first exposed to a study claiming
that immigrants disproportionately commit violent crimes. In additional experiments, participants
are more willing to publicly donate to an anti-immigrant organization and post anti-immigrant
content on social media when they can use popular rationales as an excuse. Our findings suggest
that prominent public figures can lower the cost of intolerant expression by popularizing rationales,
enabling public anti-minority behavior.

Equity Concerns are Narrowly Framed

Christine L. Exley
Harvard Business School
Judd B. Kessler
University of Pennsylvania


Distributional decisions regularly involve multiple payoff components. In a series of experiments involving over 3,300 subjects and 81,000 decisions, we find that—even when payoff components can be easily aggregated—many subjects exhibit narrow equity concerns, applying fairness preferences to a single component of payoffs. This behavior leads to preference reversals; subjects make different choices depending on which payoff component is used to denominate their decision. In our simplest setting, in which the two payoff components are small and large tokens, displaying narrow equity concerns is 63%–83% as prevalent as achieving equity in total payoffs and just as prevalent as applying the well- documented norm of a 50/50-split. Subjects also exhibit narrowly equity concerns over payoffs of time and money.

Estimating Social Preferences and Kantian Morality in Strategic Interactions

Boris van Leeuwen
Tilburg University
Ingela Alger
Toulouse School of Economics, CNRS, University of Toulouse, Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse, CEPR


Theoretical work suggests that a form of Kantian morality has evolutionary foundations. To investigate the relative importance of Kantian morality and social preferences, we run a laboratory experiment on strategic interaction in social dilemmas. We structurally estimate social preferences and Kantian morality at the individual and aggregate level. We observe considerable heterogeneity in preferences. A finite mixture analysis shows that the subject pool is well described as consisting of two types. One combines inequity aversion and Kantian morality, while the other combines spite and Kantian morality. The value of adding Kantian morality to well-established preference classes is also evaluated.

Eliciting Moral Preferences: Theory and Experiment

Roland Bénabou
Princeton University, Institute on Behavior and Inequality, NBER, CEPR, CIFAR, IZA, BREAD, and THRED
Armin Falk
Institute on Behavior and Inequality and University of Bonn
Luca Henkel
University of Bonn
Jean Tirole
Toulouse School of Economics, Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse, and University of Toulouse Capitole


We examine to what extent a person’s moral preferences can be inferred from observing their choices, for instance via experiments, and in particular, how one should interpret certain behaviors that appear deontologically motivated. Comparing the performance of the direct elicitation (DE) and multiple-price list (MPL) mechanisms, we characterize in each case how (social or self) image motives inflate the extent to which agents behave prosocially. More surprisingly, this signaling bias is shown to depend on the elicitation method, both per se and interacted with the level of visibility: it is greater under DE for low reputation concerns, and greater under MPL when they become high enough. We then test the model’s predictions in an experiment in which nearly 700 subjects choose between money for themselves and implementing a 350e donation that will, in expectation, save one human life. Interacting the elicitation method with the decision’s level of visibility and salience, we find the key crossing effect predicted by the model. We also show theoretically that certain “Kantian” postures, turning down all prices in the offered range, easily emerge under MPL when reputation becomes important enough.
JEL Classifications
  • D9 - Micro-Based Behavioral Economics