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Discussion Paper

Promises and Expectations

We investigate why people keep their promises in the absence of external enforcement mechanisms and reputational effects. In a controlled laboratory experiment we show that exogenous variation of second-order expectations (promisors’ expectations about promisees’ expectations) leads to a significant change in promisor behavior. We provide evidence that a promisor’s aversion to disappointing a promisee’s expectation leads her to behave more generously.