Kunal Sen on politicians and their promises in an uncertain world

Evidence from a lab-in-the-field experiment in India

Kunal Sen on politicians and their promises in an uncertain world

On 15 August UNU-WIDER Director Kunal Sen will present his work on 'Politicians and their promises in an uncertain world: Evidence from a lab-in-the-field experiment in India'


In emerging economies, pro-social policy outcomes may be prevented by bureaucratic inefficiency, capture by elected or non-elected office holders or by other hurdles. For local citizens, uncertainty about the true cause of such failures often prevails. We study the pro-sociality of politician decision-making in a modified dictator game with real politician participants in rural India. In our game, a recipient citizen does not know whether dictator politician capture or bad luck is to blame when receiving zero. Using a 2x2 design, we investigate how the combination of two non-monetary instruments affect politician behaviour in this hard to govern environment. The first instrument, a (non-binding) promise, is a commitment device while the second introduces a minimal relational lever between the politician and recipient.

We find that politician dictator giving becomes dramatically more pro-social from zero to 50:50 giving when these two instruments are combined. Our results provide new insights about the scope for norm-based, low-cost mechanisms to tackle governance-related asymmetric information challenges in developing country settings.


This event is free and open to the public however we ask that you register in advance. To register, or for more information, please contact richardson@wider.unu.edu