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Rewarding Altruism? A Natural Field Experiment

  • Nicola Lacetera

    (University of Toronto)

  • Mario Macis

    (Johns Hopkins Carey Business School)

  • Robert Slonim

    (University of Sydney)

We present evidence from a natural field experiment involving nearly 100,000 individuals on the effects of offering economic incentives for blood donations. Subjects who were offered economic rewards to donate blood were more likely to donate, and more so the higher the value of the rewards. They were also more likely to attract others to donate, spatially alter the location of their donations towards the drives offering rewards, and modify their temporal donation schedule leading to a short-term reduction in donations immediately after the reward offer was removed. Although offering economic incentives, combining all of these effects, positively and significantly increased donations, ignoring individuals who took additional actions beyond donating to get others to donate would have led to an under-estimate of the total effect, whereas ignoring the spatial effect would have led to an over-estimate of the total effect. We also find that individuals who received a reward by surprise were less likely to donate after the intervention than subjects who received no reward, suggesting that for some individuals a surprise reward adversely affected their intrinsic motivations. We discuss the implications of these findings for understanding pro-social behavior.

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Paper provided by Becker Friedman Institute for Research In Economics in its series Working Papers with number 2011-010.

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Date of creation: 2011
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Handle: RePEc:bfi:wpaper:2011-010
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  1. Glenn W. Harrison & John A. List, 2004. "Field Experiments," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 42(4), pages 1009-1055, December.
  2. John A. List, 2011. "The Market for Charitable Giving," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 25(2), pages 157-80, Spring.
  3. Nava Ashraf & Oriana Bandiera & Kelsy Jack, 2012. "No margin, no mission?: a field experiment on incentives for pro-social tasks," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 51614, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
  4. Emma Hall & Carol Propper & John Van Reenen, 2008. "Can pay regulation kill? Panel data evidence on the effect of labor markets on hospital performance," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 3282, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
  5. Lacetera, Nicola & Macis, Mario, 2010. "Do all material incentives for pro-social activities backfire? The response to cash and non-cash incentives for blood donations," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 31(4), pages 738-748, August.
  6. Stephan Meier, 2006. "A survey of economic theories and field evidence on pro-social behavior," Working Papers 06-6, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
  7. repec:feb:artefa:0090 is not listed on IDEAS
  8. Jessica Cohen & Pascaline Dupas, 2010. "Free Distribution or Cost-Sharing? Evidence from a Randomized Malaria Prevention Experiment," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 125(1), pages 1-45.
  9. Mellström, Carl & Johannesson, Magnus, 2005. "Crowding Out in Blood Donation: Was Titmuss Right?," Working Papers in Economics 180, University of Gothenburg, Department of Economics, revised 08 Feb 2008.
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