An Experimental Examination of the Effect of Potential Revelation of Identity on Satisfying Obligations

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Reciprocity is reported in simple experiments even in the absence of reputation or the ability to sanction. This paper reports the results of an experiment (one-shot investment game) designed to shed light on the underlying forces that drive reciprocal behavior. We contend that reciprocity arises because people strive to satisfy feelings of obligation. Our findings indicate that when interactions are anonymous, participants satisfy obligations by repaying exactly what was received, keeping any surplus for themselves. By comparison, when participants face the possibility of having their identity revealed, they reciprocate to a much greater extent (i.e., repayment exceeds the amount received). We suggest that such behavior arises due to impression management concerns.