ICES Experimental Economics Brown Bag Lecture

Social Norms Offer Explanation for Inconsistent Effects of Incentives on Prosocial Behavior

Thursday, March 10, 2022 12:00 PM to 1:00 PM EST
Online Location, Zoom Meeting

ICES Experimental Economics Brown Bag Lecture

The Interdisciplinary Center for Economic Science (ICES) presents an ICES Brown Bag Lecture featuring:

Caroline Graf

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

Social Norms Offer Explanation for Inconsistent Effects of Incentives on Prosocial Behavior

 

Please contact ICES Office Manager (sbahabib@gmu.edu) for Zoom link.

 

Abstract

Humans are widely considered to be susceptible to incentives, which are frequently employed to encourage specific behaviors. However, incentives have surprisingly inconsistent effects when used to motivate *prosocial* behavior -- sometimes producing no behavioral change or even backfiring. To explain these inconsistencies, we integrated insights from evolutionary biology and psychology into a prominent economic model, based on the idea that social norms shape the reputational consequences of receiving incentives. We tested this model on the real-world prosocial behavior of blood donation. Our preregistered analyses reveal that social norms can indeed account for the varying effects of financial and time incentives on individual-level blood donation behavior across 28 European countries (N > 25,000). Incentives are associated with higher levels of prosociality when norms regarding the incentive are more positive. The results suggest humans are not universally persuaded by incentives to behave prosocially, but that the effectiveness of incentives depends on social norms.

 

For more information about the Brown Bag Lectures, please visit the Brown Bag Schedule homepage.

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