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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

Suggested Citation

  • Mathias Ekström, 2012. "Do watching eyes affect charitable giving? Evidence from a field experiment," Experimental Economics, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 15(3), pages 530-546, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:kap:expeco:v:15:y:2012:i:3:p:530-546
    DOI: 10.1007/s10683-011-9312-6
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Ernst Fehr & Klaus M. Schmidt, 1999. "A Theory of Fairness, Competition, and Cooperation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 114(3), pages 817-868.
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Subhasish M. Chowdhury & Joo Young Jeon & Bibhas Saha, 2014. "Eye-image in Experiments: Social Cue or Experimenter Demand Effect?," University of East Anglia Applied and Financial Economics Working Paper Series 067, School of Economics, University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK..
    2. Henry, Emeric & Sonntag, Jan, 2015. "Measuring image concerns," CEPR Discussion Papers 10831, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
    3. Ekström, Mathias, 2017. "Seasonal Social Preferences," Working Paper Series 1159, Research Institute of Industrial Economics.
    4. Michalis Drouvelis & Benjamin Marx, 2018. "Prosociality Spillovers of Working with Others," CESifo Working Paper Series 6849, CESifo Group Munich.
    5. Alain Cohn & Michel André Maréchal, 2016. "Priming in economics," ECON - Working Papers 226, Department of Economics - University of Zurich.
    6. 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.
    7. Nystad Handberg , Øyvind & Angelsen, Arild, 2016. "Pay little, get little; pay more, get a little more: A framed forest experiment in Tanzania," Working Paper Series 02-2016, Norwegian University of Life Sciences, School of Economics and Business.
    8. 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.
    9. Emel Filiz-Ozbay & Erkut Ozbay, 2014. "Effect of an audience in public goods provision," Experimental Economics, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 17(2), pages 200-214, June.
    10. Holm, Hakan J. & Samahita, Margaret, 2016. "Curating Social Image: Experimental Evidence on the Value of Actions and Selfies," Working Papers 2016:8, Lund University, Department of Economics, revised 14 Nov 2016.
    11. Ekström, Mathias, 2017. "Seasonal Social Preferences," Discussion Paper Series in Economics 4/2017, Norwegian School of Economics, Department of Economics.

    More about this item

    Keywords

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

    JEL classification:

    • A13 - General Economics and Teaching - - General Economics - - - Relation of Economics to Social Values
    • C93 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Field Experiments
    • D03 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Behavioral Microeconomics: Underlying Principles
    • D64 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Altruism; Philanthropy; Intergenerational Transfers

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