Talk: Giuseppe Danese - On Pledging One’s Trustworthiness Through Gifts: An Experimental Inquiry

Friday, November 8, 2019 - 1:30pm

402 Cohen Hall

Giuseppe Danese

Philosophy, Politics and Economics Fellow 

University of Pennsylvania 


Title: On Pledging One’s Trustworthiness Through Gifts: An Experimental Inquiry 

Abstract: Gift exchange has been described in the anthropological literature as instrumental to the establishment of a political economy, i.e., an economy in which risks and conflicts are reduced through exchanges of commodities among unrelated actors. In this paper, we wish to study, through a laboratory experiment, whether gifts are a pledge of one’s willingness to trade in commodities; and whether any gift can function as a pledge. We use a repeated trust game, in which we vary whether the trustee can send a token before the trustor sends a money gift; whether one token is socially positioned through a simple “beauty contest” procedure; and whether the players interact repeatedly, or are randomly matched in each round. Fixed couples with the ability to send gifts to each other display levels of trust and trustworthiness comparable to what we observe in the studies with fixed couples (without gifts). The social positioning of the tokens induces economizing behavior in terms of the token the players send. We explain these results through the notion of “spheres of exchange,” i.e., the difficulty of the players in defining appropriate exchange terms between gifts and commodities. We conclude that from the point of view of institutional design, the time horizon of the relationship might be at least as important as the ability to make pledges.