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Do watching eyes affect charitable giving? Evidence from a field experiment

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  • Mathias Ekström

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Abstract

The presence of implicit observation cues, such as picture of eyes, has been shown to increase generosity in dictator games, and cooperative behavior in field settings. I combine these approaches, by testing if a picture of watching eyes affects unconditional giving in a natural environment, where the recipient is a charity organization. Taken together, this study reduces the influence of three potential confounding factors in previous experiments: (i) experimenter demand effects, (ii) that the facial cue reminds subjects of a human counterpart, and (iii) a social multiplier effect. Specifically, the paper reports results from an experiment, conducted in a Swedish supermarket chain, where customers face a naturally occurring decision problem. People who recycle cans and bottles have to choose whether to keep the recycled amount or donate it to a charity organization. By posting a picture of human eyes on recycling machines, I am able to test whether this causes an increase in donations to the charity. Based on a sample covering a 12-day period, 38 stores and 16775 individual choices, I find no general effect. However, when controlling for store and day fixed effects, and using a proxy for store attendance, the picture of eyes increased donated amount by 30 percent during days when relatively few other people visited the store. This result gives further support to the conclusion that subtle social cues can invoke reputation concerns in humans, although the relatively small effect suggests that previous estimates could be biased upward, or at least that the influence of observational cues is context dependent. Copyright Economic Science Association 2012

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Bibliographic Info

Article provided by Springer in its journal Experimental Economics.

Volume (Year): 15 (2012)
Issue (Month): 3 (September)
Pages: 530-546

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Handle: RePEc:kap:expeco:v:15:y:2012:i:3:p:530-546

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Web page: http://www.springerlink.com/link.asp?id=102888

Related research

Keywords: Altruism; Cues; Reputation; Field Experiment; A13; C93; D03; D64;

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  1. Stefano DellaVigna & John List & Ulrike Malmendier, 2012. "Testing for altruism and social pressure in charitable giving," Natural Field Experiments 00137, The Field Experiments Website.
  2. Mas, Alexandre & Moretti, Enrico, 2006. "Peers at Work," CEPR Discussion Papers 5870, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  3. Simon Gaechter & Henrik Orzen & Elke Renner & Chris Starmer, 2007. "Are Experimental Economists Prone to Framing Effects? A Natural Field Experiment," Discussion Papers 2007-01, The Centre for Decision Research and Experimental Economics, School of Economics, University of Nottingham.
  4. Alpizar, Francisco & Carlsson, Fredrik & Johansson-Stenman, Olof, 2008. "Anonymity, reciprocity, and conformity: Evidence from voluntary contributions to a national park in Costa Rica," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 92(5-6), pages 1047-1060, June.
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  6. Fehr, Ernst & Schmidt, Klaus M., 1998. "A Theory of Fairness, Competition and Cooperation," CEPR Discussion Papers 1812, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  7. Marianne Bertrand & Esther Duflo & Sendhil Mullainathan, 2004. "How Much Should We Trust Differences-in-Differences Estimates?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 119(1), pages 249-275, February.
  8. Ellingsen, Tore & Johannesson, Magnus & Mollerstrom, Johanna & Munkhammar, Sara, 2012. "Social framing effects: Preferences or beliefs?," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 76(1), pages 117-130.
  9. Nicholas Bardsley, 2008. "Dictator game giving: altruism or artefact?," Experimental Economics, Springer, vol. 11(2), pages 122-133, June.
  10. Soetevent, Adriaan R., 2005. "Anonymity in giving in a natural context--a field experiment in 30 churches," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 89(11-12), pages 2301-2323, December.
  11. Steven D. Levitt & John A. List, 2007. "What Do Laboratory Experiments Measuring Social Preferences Reveal About the Real World?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 21(2), pages 153-174, Spring.
  12. Oriana Bandiera & Iwan Barankay & Imran Rasul, 2005. "Social Preferences and the Response to Incentives: Evidence from Personnel Data," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 120(3), pages 917-962, August.
  13. Martin, Richard & Randal, John, 2008. "How is donation behaviour affected by the donations of others?," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 67(1), pages 228-238, July.
  14. Burnham, Terence C., 2003. "Engineering altruism: a theoretical and experimental investigation of anonymity and gift giving," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 50(1), pages 133-144, January.
  15. M Bateson & D Nettle & G Roberts, 2006. "Cues of being watched enhance cooperation in a real-world setting," Natural Field Experiments 00214, The Field Experiments Website.
  16. John A. List, 2007. "On the Interpretation of Giving in Dictator Games," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 115, pages 482-493.
  17. repec:feb:natura:0059 is not listed on IDEAS
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Cited by:
  1. Knutsson, Mikael & Martinsson, Peter & Wollbrant, Conny, 2013. "Do people avoid opportunities to donate?," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 93(C), pages 71-77.
  2. Axel Franzen & Sonja Pointner, 2013. "Giving according to preferences: Decision-making in the group dictator game," University of Bern Social Sciences Working Papers 2, University of Bern, Department of Social Sciences, revised 24 Jan 2014.

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