Accountability as a Warrant for Trust: An Experiment on Sanctions and Justifications in a Trust Game

Kaisa Herne, Olli Lappalainen, Maija Setälä, Juha Ylisalo

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Accountability is present in many types of social relations; for example, the accountability of elected representatives to voters is the key characteristic of representative democracy. We distinguish between two institutional mechanisms of accountability, i.e., opportunity to punish and requirement of a justification, and examine the separate and combined effects of these mechanisms on individual behavior. For this purpose, we designed a decision-making experiment where subjects engage in a three-player trust game with two senders and one responder. We ask whether holding the responder accountable increases senders’ and responders’ contributions in a trust game. When restricting the analysis to the first round, the requirement of justification seems to have a positive impact on senders’ contributions. When the game is played repeatedly, the experience of previous rounds dominates the results and significant treatment effects are no longer seen. We also find that responders tend to justify their choices in terms of reciprocity, which is in line with observed behavior. Moreover, the treatment combining punishment and justification hinders justifications that appeal to pure self-interest.

Original languageEnglish
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2022
Publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed


  • Accountability
  • Altruism
  • Punishment
  • Reciprocity
  • Trust game

Publication forum classification

  • Publication forum level 1

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Decision Sciences(all)
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Applied Psychology
  • Social Sciences(all)
  • Economics, Econometrics and Finance(all)
  • Computer Science Applications


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