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Materialists and altruists in a charitable donation experiment


  • David Fielding
  • Stephen Knowles
  • Kirsten Robertson


This paper presents results from a laboratory experiment that draws on insights from economics on different incentives for generosity and insights from social psychology on different personality types. Firstly, we test whether the effect of an appeal to pure altruism versus an appeal to self-interest varies across subjects. We find that there is substantial variation, and this variation is strongly correlated with a subject’s level of materialism. Secondly, we test whether spoken appeals and written appeals have different effects. We find no evidence for such a difference. These results have important implications for charities’ fundraising strategies and for experimental design.

Suggested Citation

  • David Fielding & Stephen Knowles & Kirsten Robertson, 2020. "Materialists and altruists in a charitable donation experiment," Oxford Economic Papers, Oxford University Press, vol. 72(1), pages 216-234.
  • Handle: RePEc:oup:oxecpp:v:72:y:2020:i:1:p:216-234.

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    JEL classification:

    • D64 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Altruism; Philanthropy; Intergenerational Transfers
    • M31 - Business Administration and Business Economics; Marketing; Accounting; Personnel Economics - - Marketing and Advertising - - - Marketing
    • C91 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Individual Behavior


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