On blame-freeness and reciprocity: an experimental study
The theory of reciprocity is predicated on the assumption that people are willing to reward nice or kind acts and to punish unkind ones. This assumption raises the question as to how to define kindness. In this paper we offer a new definition of kindness that we call “blame-freeness.” Put most simply, blame-freeness states that in judging whether player i has been kind or unkind to player j in a social situation, player j would have to put himself in the strategic position of player i, while retaining his preferences, and ask if he would have acted in a manner that was worse than i did under identical circumstances. If j would have acted in a more unkind manner than i acted, then we say that j does not blame i for his behavior. If, however, j would have been nicer than i was, then we say that “j blames i” for his actions (i’s actions were blameworthy). We consider this notion a natural, intuitive and empirically relevant way to explain the motives of people engaged in reciprocal behavior. After developing the conceptual framework, we then test this concept in a laboratory experiment involving tournaments and find significant support for the theory.