Emotional perspective taking changes the pattern of reciprocity from balanced to conditional. An experimental study of the effects of empathy on reciprocal behavior

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We conduct a trust game with an incentivized emotional perspective taking task to induce cognitive empathy in the trustees. The experiment, conducted on Amazon MTurk (N=100 subjects), shows that the treatment does not increase the average fraction returned by the trustees, but does change the pattern of reciprocity. Subjects in the control group show a balanced pattern of reciprocity, meaning that they always return the same percentage, independent of the amount sent by the trustor. The treatment group, on the other hand, shows a conditional pattern of reciprocity: the percentage they return depends on the amount they receive from the trustor. If the trustor trusts them, they reward it, it they are distrusted, they punish it by returning a low fraction. We find that trait empathy plays no significant role in reciprocal behavior. The results imply that encouraging emotional perspective taking might lead to more prosocial behavior, but only if the other person has already made a first step by showing trust. Key words: cognitive empathy, emotional perspective taking, patterns of reciprocity, trust game
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