Continuous Preferences Can Cause Discontinuous Choices: An Application to the Impact of Incentives on Altruism
AbstractImplementing incentive systems can sometimes backfire in practice: experimental evidence and folklore both suggest that offers of explicit rewards can expose surprising discontinuities in behaviour. This Paper models two such discontinuities that have been claimed by psychologists and experimental economists to constitute important exceptions to the standard economic theory of human motivation. The first (‘type discontinuity’) is the observation of a discontinuity in the distribution across population types of values of the willingness to accept payment in return for performing certain (‘civic’) actions, such as giving blood or performing public service. It is claimed that this distribution is bimodal, even discontinuous: many people have a zero WTA, many have a large positive WTA, but nobody has a small positive WTA. The second (‘payment discontinuity’, also known as ‘crowding-out’) is that people who are willing to perform certain actions for free will refuse to perform them for a low price, even if they subsequently agree to perform them if the price is raised enough. Civic virtue may, on this view, be crowded out by the introduction of explicit incentives; people may stop doing things they were previously prepared to do without reward. The Paper shows that both phenomena may be observed as a result of individuals’ acting in a first period of public service in the knowledge that the terms of their action signal their type, and their type will affect a process of assortative matching in a second period. Type Discontinuity, but not Payment Discontinuity, is observed in a signaling game in which individuals announce the prices at which they will perform a civic action. Payment Discontinuity, but not Type Discontinuity, is observed in a screening game in which individuals have only a binary participation decision available to signal their type. The proportion of individuals participating when rewards are zero can be higher than when rewards are positive but small.
Download InfoIf you experience problems downloading a file, check if you have the proper application to view it first. In case of further problems read the IDEAS help page. Note that these files are not on the IDEAS site. Please be patient as the files may be large.
As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to look for a different version under "Related research" (further below) or search for a different version of it.
Bibliographic InfoPaper provided by C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers in its series CEPR Discussion Papers with number 4322.
Date of creation: Mar 2004
Date of revision:
Contact details of provider:
Postal: Centre for Economic Policy Research, 77 Bastwick Street, London EC1V 3PZ.
Phone: 44 - 20 - 7183 8801
Fax: 44 - 20 - 7183 8820
Other versions of this item:
- Seabright, Paul, 2004. "Continuous Preferences Can Cause Discontinuous Choices : an Application to the Impact of Incentives on Altruism," IDEI Working Papers 257, Institut d'Économie Industrielle (IDEI), Toulouse.
- A12 - General Economics and Teaching - - General Economics - - - Relation of Economics to Other Disciplines
- C70 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Game Theory and Bargaining Theory - - - General
- D10 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior - - - General
- D60 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - General
- H41 - Public Economics - - Publicly Provided Goods - - - Public Goods
- J22 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Time Allocation and Labor Supply
This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:
- NEP-ALL-2004-06-13 (All new papers)
- NEP-DCM-2004-06-13 (Discrete Choice Models)
- NEP-EVO-2004-06-13 (Evolutionary Economics)
- NEP-EXP-2004-06-13 (Experimental Economics)
Please report citation or reference errors to , or , if you are the registered author of the cited work, log in to your RePEc Author Service profile, click on "citations" and make appropriate adjustments.:
- Acemoglu, Daron, 1996.
"Changes in Unemployment and Wage Inequality: An Alternative Theory and Some Evidence,"
CEPR Discussion Papers
1459, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
- Daron Acemoglu, 1999. "Changes in Unemployment and Wage Inequality: An Alternative Theory and Some Evidence," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(5), pages 1259-1278, December.
- Daron Acemoglu, 1998. "Changes in Unemployment and Wage Inequality: An Alternative Theory and Some Evidence," NBER Working Papers 6658, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
- Acemoglu, D., 1996. "Changes in Unemployment and Wage Inequality: An Alternative Theory and Some Evidence," Working papers 96-15, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
- Frey, Bruno S & Jegen, Reto, 2001. " Motivation Crowding Theory," Journal of Economic Surveys, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 15(5), pages 589-611, December.
- Gneezy, U. & Rustichini, A., 1998.
"Pay Enough - Or Don't Pay at All,"
1998-57, Tilburg University, Center for Economic Research.
- Dow, William H. & Philipson, Tomas, 1996. "An empirical examination of the implications of assortative matching on the incidence of HIV," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 15(6), pages 735-749, December.
- Gneezy, Uri & Rustichini, Aldo, 2000.
"A Fine is a Price,"
The Journal of Legal Studies,
University of Chicago Press, vol. 29(1), pages 1-17, January.
- Frey, Bruno S & Oberholzer-Gee, Felix & Eichenberger, Reiner, 1996. "The Old Lady Visits Your Backyard: A Tale of Morals and Markets," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 104(6), pages 1297-1313, December.
- Kremer, M & Maskin, E, 1996.
"Wage Inequality and Segregation by Skill,"
96-23, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Department of Economics.
- Fehr, Ernst & Falk, Armin, 2002.
"Psychological foundations of incentives,"
European Economic Review,
Elsevier, vol. 46(4-5), pages 687-724, May.
- Falk, Armin & Fehr, Ernst, 2002. "Psychological Foundations of Incentives," CEPR Discussion Papers 3185, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
- Ernst Fehr & Armin Falk, . "Psychological Foundations of Incentives," IEW - Working Papers 095, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.
- Ernst Fehr & Armin Falk, 2002. "Psychological Foundations of Incentives," CESifo Working Paper Series 714, CESifo Group Munich.
- Ernst Fehr, 2003. "Psychological Foundations of Incentives," Microeconomics 0305010, EconWPA.
- Fehr, Ernst & Falk, Armin, 2002. "Psychological Foundations of Incentives," IZA Discussion Papers 507, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
- Roland Benabou & Jean Tirole, 2003.
"Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivation,"
Review of Economic Studies,
Wiley Blackwell, vol. 70(3), pages 489-520, 07.
- George J. Mailath & Larry Samuelson & Avner Shaked, .
"Endogenous Inequality in Integrated Labor Markets with Two-sided Search,"
Penn CARESS Working Papers
90ff654ed11b714e3f7530c57, Penn Economics Department.
- Larry Samuelson & George J. Mailath & Avner Shaked, 2000. "Endogenous Inequality in Integrated Labor Markets with Two-Sided Search," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(1), pages 46-72, March.
- George J. Mailath & Larry Samuelson & Avner Shaked, . ""Endogenous Inequality in Integrated Labor Markets with Two-sided Search''," CARESS Working Papres 98-06, University of Pennsylvania Center for Analytic Research and Economics in the Social Sciences.
- Frey, Bruno S & Oberholzer-Gee, Felix, 1997. "The Cost of Price Incentives: An Empirical Analysis of Motivation Crowding-Out," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 87(4), pages 746-55, September.
- Tversky, Amos & Kahneman, Daniel, 1986. "Rational Choice and the Framing of Decisions," The Journal of Business, University of Chicago Press, vol. 59(4), pages S251-78, October.
- Benabou, Roland, 1994. "Human capital, inequality, and growth: A local perspective," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 38(3-4), pages 817-826, April.
- Ghatak, Maitreesh, 1999. "Group lending, local information and peer selection," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 60(1), pages 27-50, October.
- Lerman, Robert I, 1996. "The Impact of the Changing US Family Structure on Child Poverty and Income Inequality," Economica, London School of Economics and Political Science, vol. 63(250), pages S119-39, Suppl..
This item has more than 25 citations. To prevent cluttering this page, these citations are listed on a separate page. reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.Access and download statisticsgeneral information about how to correct material in RePEc.
For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: ().
If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.
If references are entirely missing, you can add them using this form.
If the full references list an item that is present in RePEc, but the system did not link to it, you can help with this form.
If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.
Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.