Smiley or Frowney: The Effect of Emotions and Empathy Framing in a Downstream Water Pollution Game

Natalia V. Czap, Hans J. Czap, Marianna Khachaturyan, Mark E. Burbach, Gary D. Lynne


Common-pool resources and other shared resources frequently suffer from overextraction/overuse and associated negative externalities. In this paper we design a framed laboratory experiment on downstream water pollution to investigate (a) the importance of empathy vs. self-interest framing in determining the behavior of upstreamers regarding the negative externalities, and (b) the potential of downstreamers to influence the choices of upstreamers using non-monetary sanctions and rewards, alleviating the need for intervention by the local governments and regulatory institutions. Our results show that empathy framing has a much more significant impact on individual behavior than self-interest framing. Overall subjects behaved more profit-oriented in the self-interest framing and more egalitarian in the empathy framing. Lastly, negative emotional feedback is a powerful tool for changing behavior of subjects towards more environmentally friendly actions. Interestingly, positive emotional feedback is counterproductive for that. In general our results indicate that explicit emotional feedback, even though not expressed by everyone, works to the same degree as the implicit appeal to emotions through framing.

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International Journal of Economics and Finance  ISSN  1916-971X (Print) ISSN  1916-9728 (Online)  Email:

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