IDEAS home Printed from
MyIDEAS: Login to save this article or follow this journal

Social Comparisons and Pro-social Behavior: Testing "Conditional Cooperation" in a Field Experiment

  • Bruno S. Frey
  • Stephan Meier

People behave pro-socially in a wide variety of situations that standard economic theory is unable to explain. Social comparison is one explanation for such pro-social behavior: people contribute if others contribute or cooperate as well. This paper tests social comparison in a field experiment at the University of Zurich. Each semester every single student has to decide whether he or she wants to contribute to two Social Funds. We provided 2500 randomly selected students with information about the average behavior of the student population. Some received the information that a high percentage of the student population contributed, while others received the information that a relatively low percentage contributed. The results show that people behave pro-socially, conditional on others. The more others cooperate, the more one is inclined to do so as well. The type of person is important. We are able to fix the ‘types’ by looking at revealed past behavior. Some persons seem to care more about the pro-social behavior of others, while other ‘types’ are not affected by the average behavior of the reference group.

(This abstract was borrowed from another version of this item.)

If 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.

File URL:
Download Restriction: Access to full text is restricted to AEA members and institutional subscribers.

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.

Article provided by American Economic Association in its journal American Economic Review.

Volume (Year): 94 (2004)
Issue (Month): 5 (December)
Pages: 1717-1722

in new window

Handle: RePEc:aea:aecrev:v:94:y:2004:i:5:p:1717-1722
Note: DOI: 10.1257/0002828043052187
Contact details of provider: Web page:

More information through EDIRC

Order Information: Web:

References listed on IDEAS
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.:

as in new window
  1. Ernst Fehr & Urs Fischbacher & Bernhard von Rosenbladt & Jürgen Schupp & Gert G. Wagner, 2002. "A Nation-Wide Laboratory: Examining Trust and Trustworthiness by Integrating Behavioral Experiments into Representative Surveys," Discussion Papers of DIW Berlin 319, DIW Berlin, German Institute for Economic Research.
  2. repec:oup:qjecon:v:115:y:2000:i:3:p:811-846 is not listed on IDEAS
  3. Ernst Fehr & Klaus M. Schmidt, 1999. "A Theory Of Fairness, Competition, And Cooperation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 114(3), pages 817-868, August.
  4. Andreoni, James & Scholz, John Karl, 1998. "An Econometric Analysis of Charitable Giving with Interdependent Preferences," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 36(3), pages 410-28, July.
  5. Bardsley, Nicholas & Sausgruber, Rupert, 2005. "Conformity and reciprocity in public good provision," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 26(5), pages 664-681, October.
  6. Offerman, Theo & Sonnemans, Joep & Schram, Arthur, 1996. "Value Orientations, Expectations and Voluntary Contributions in Public Goods," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 106(437), pages 817-45, July.
  7. Urs Fischbacher & Simon Gaechter & Ernst Fehr, . "Are People Conditionally Cooperative? Evidence from a Public Goods Experiment," IEW - Working Papers 016, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.
  8. Armin Falk & Urs Fischbacher & Simon Gächter, 2003. "Living in Two Neighborhoods – Social Interactions in the LAB," CESifo Working Paper Series 954, CESifo Group Munich.
  9. James Andreoni & Lise Vesterlund, 2001. "Which Is The Fair Sex? Gender Differences In Altruism," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 116(1), pages 293-312, February.
  10. repec:oup:qjecon:v:111:y:1996:i:2:p:507-48 is not listed on IDEAS
  11. Bruno S. Frey & Stephan Meier, 2002. "Pro-Social Behavior, Reciprocity or Both?," CESifo Working Paper Series 750, CESifo Group Munich.
  12. David Lucking-Reiley & John List, 2002. "The effects of seed money and refunds on charitable giving: Experimental evidence from a university capital campaign," Natural Field Experiments 00301, The Field Experiments Website.
  13. Armin Falk, 2004. "Charitable giving as a gift exchange: Evidence from a field experiment," Natural Field Experiments 00238, The Field Experiments Website.
  14. Clotfelter, Charles T., 1997. "The Economics of Giving," Working Papers 97-19, Duke University, Department of Economics.
  15. Selten, Reinhard & Ockenfels, Axel, 1998. "An experimental solidarity game," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 34(4), pages 517-539, March.
  16. Andrea Ichino & Armin Falk, 2003. "Clean evidence on peer pressure," Natural Field Experiments 00239, The Field Experiments Website.
  17. Alm, James & McClelland, Gary H. & Schulze, William D., 1992. "Why do people pay taxes?," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 48(1), pages 21-38, June.
  18. Matthew Rabin., 1992. "Incorporating Fairness into Game Theory and Economics," Economics Working Papers 92-199, University of California at Berkeley.
  19. Iris Bohnet & Richard Zeckhauser, 2004. "Social comparisons in ultimatum bargaining," CREMA Working Paper Series 2004-08, Center for Research in Economics, Management and the Arts (CREMA).
  20. Andreoni, James, 1990. "Impure Altruism and Donations to Public Goods: A Theory of Warm-Glow Giving?," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 100(401), pages 464-77, June.
  21. Andreoni, James & Samuelson, Larry, 2006. "Building rational cooperation," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 127(1), pages 117-154, March.
  22. Ernst Fehr & Simon Gaechter, . "Fairness and Retaliation: The Economics of Reciprocitys," IEW - Working Papers 040, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.
  23. Rachel T. A. Croson, 2007. "Theories Of Commitment, Altruism And Reciprocity: Evidence From Linear Public Goods Games," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 45(2), pages 199-216, 04.
  24. Charles F. Manski, 2000. "Economic Analysis of Social Interactions," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 14(3), pages 115-136, Summer.
  25. Armin Falk, 2004. "Charitable Giving as a Gift Exchange – Evidence from a Field Experiment (new title: Gift-Exchange in the Field)," CESifo Working Paper Series 1218, CESifo Group Munich.
  26. Sutter, Matthias & Weck-Hannemann, Hannelore, 2003. "On the effects of asymmetric and endogenous taxation in experimental public goods games," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 79(1), pages 59-67, April.
  27. Vesterlund, Lise, 2003. "The informational value of sequential fundraising," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 87(3-4), pages 627-657, March.
  28. Brandts, Jordi & Schram, Arthur, 2001. "Cooperation and noise in public goods experiments: applying the contribution function approach," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 79(2), pages 399-427, February.
  29. Claudia Keser & Frans A.A.M. van Winden, 2000. "Conditional Cooperation and Voluntary Contributions to Public Goods," Tinbergen Institute Discussion Papers 00-011/1, Tinbergen Institute.
  30. Ernst Fehr & Klaus Schmidt, 2000. "Theories of Fairness and Reciprocity – Evidence and Economic Applications," CESifo Working Paper Series 403, CESifo Group Munich.
  31. Weimann, Joachim, 1994. "Individual behaviour in a free riding experiment," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 54(2), pages 185-200, June.
  32. Messick, David M., 1999. "Alternative logics for decision making in social settings," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 39(1), pages 11-28, May.
  33. Keser, Claudia & van Winden, Frans, 2000. " Conditional Cooperation and Voluntary Contributions to Public Goods," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 102(1), pages 23-39, March.
Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)

This item is not listed on Wikipedia, on a reading list or among the top items on IDEAS.

When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:aea:aecrev:v:94:y:2004:i:5:p:1717-1722. See general 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: (Jane Voros)

or (Michael P. Albert)

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.

This information is provided to you by IDEAS at the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis using RePEc data.