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Paying to Be Nice: Consistency and Costly Prosocial Behavior

Author

Listed:
  • Ayelet Gneezy

    (Rady School of Management, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, California 92093)

  • Alex Imas

    (Department of Economics, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, California 92093)

  • Amber Brown

    (Disney Research Boston, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02142)

  • Leif D. Nelson

    (Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, California 94720)

  • Michael I. Norton

    (Harvard Business School, Harvard University, Boston, Massachusetts 02163)

Abstract

Building on previous research in economics and psychology, we propose that the costliness of initial prosocial behavior positively influences whether that behavior leads to consistent future behaviors. We suggest that costly prosocial behaviors serve as a signal of prosocial identity and that people subsequently behave in line with that self-perception. In contrast, costless prosocial acts do not signal much about one's prosocial identity, so subsequent behavior is less likely to be consistent and may even show the reductions in prosocial behavior associated with licensing. The results of a laboratory experiment and a large field experiment converge to support our account. This paper was accepted by Brad Barber, Teck Ho, and Terrance Odean, special issue editors.

Suggested Citation

  • Ayelet Gneezy & Alex Imas & Amber Brown & Leif D. Nelson & Michael I. Norton, 2012. "Paying to Be Nice: Consistency and Costly Prosocial Behavior," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 58(1), pages 179-187, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:inm:ormnsc:v:58:y:2012:i:1:p:179-187
    DOI: 10.1287/mnsc.1110.1437
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    References listed on IDEAS

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