European Business Schools Librarian's Group

SSE Working Paper Series in Economics,
Stockholm School of Economics

No 2014:1: Is there an omission effect in prosocial behavior?

Manja Gärtner () and Anna Sandberg ()
Additional contact information
Manja Gärtner: Department of Economics, Postal: Stockholm University, SE-106 91, Stockholm, Sweden
Anna Sandberg: Institute for International Economic Studies (IIES), Postal: Stockholm University, SE-106 91 , Stockholm, Sweden

Abstract: We investigate whether individuals are more prone to act selfishly if they can passively allow for an outcome to be implemented (omission) rather than having to make an active choice (commission). In most settings, active and passive choice alternatives differ in terms of factors such as the presence of a suggested option, costs of taking an action, and awareness. We isolate the omission effect from confounding factors in two experiments, and find no evidence that the distinction between active and passive choices has an independent effect on the propensity to implement selfish outcomes. This suggests that increased selfishness through omission, as observed in various economic choice situations, is driven by other factors than a preference for selfish omissions.

Keywords: Fairness; Social preferences; Morals; Dictator game; Omission

JEL-codes: D03

40 pages, First version: September 24, 2014. Revised: December 3, 2015. Earlier revisions: March 25, 2015, March 25, 2015, December 2, 2015, December 2, 2015.

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