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Do Watching Eyes Affect Charitable Giving? Evidence from a Field Experiment

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.

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File URL: http://www2.ne.su.se/paper/wp11_28.pdf
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Paper provided by Stockholm University, Department of Economics in its series Research Papers in Economics with number 2011:28.

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Length: 18 pages
Date of creation: 29 Nov 2011
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:hhs:sunrpe:2011_0028
Contact details of provider: Postal: Department of Economics, Stockholm, S-106 91 Stockholm, Sweden
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Fax: +46 8 16 14 25
Web page: http://www.ne.su.se/
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  1. Daniel Nettle & Gilbert Roberts & Melissa Bateson, 2006. "Cues of being watched enhance cooperation in a real-world setting," Natural Field Experiments 00214, The Field Experiments Website.
  2. Steven D. Levitt & John A. List, 2007. "What Do Laboratory Experiments Measuring Social Preferences Reveal About the Real World?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 21(2), pages 153-174, Spring.
  3. Anna Dreber & Tore Ellingsen & Magnus Johannesson & David Rand, 2013. "Do people care about social context? Framing effects in dictator games," Experimental Economics, Springer, vol. 16(3), pages 349-371, September.
  4. Fehr, Ernst & Schmidt, Klaus M., 1998. "A Theory of Fairness, Competition and Cooperation," CEPR Discussion Papers 1812, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  5. Rigdon, Mary & Ishii, Keiko & Watabe, Motoki & Kitayama, Shinobu, 2008. "Minimal Social Cues in the Dictator Game," MPRA Paper 8439, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  6. Simon Gaechter & Henrik Orzen & Elke Renner & Chris Starmer, 2007. "Are Experimental Economists Prone to Framing Effects? A Natural Field Experiment," Discussion Papers 2007-01, The Centre for Decision Research and Experimental Economics, School of Economics, University of Nottingham.
  7. Mas, Alexandre & Moretti, Enrico, 2006. "Peers at Work," CEPR Discussion Papers 5870, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  8. John List & Stefano DellaVigna & Ulrike Malmendier, 2012. "Testing for altruism and social pressure in charitable giving," Natural Field Experiments 00137, The Field Experiments Website.
  9. Nicholas Bardsley, 2008. "Dictator game giving: altruism or artefact?," Experimental Economics, Springer, vol. 11(2), pages 122-133, June.
  10. Marianne Bertrand & Esther Duflo & Sendhil Mullainathan, 2004. "How Much Should We Trust Differences-in-Differences Estimates?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 119(1), pages 249-275, February.
  11. Martin, Richard & Randal, John, 2008. "How is donation behaviour affected by the donations of others?," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 67(1), pages 228-238, July.
  12. Imran Rasul & Iwan Barankay & Orana Bandiera, 2005. "Social preferences and the response to incentives: Evidence from personnel data," Natural Field Experiments 00212, The Field Experiments Website.
  13. Soetevent, Adriaan R., 2005. "Anonymity in giving in a natural context--a field experiment in 30 churches," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 89(11-12), pages 2301-2323, December.
  14. repec:feb:natura:0059 is not listed on IDEAS
  15. Alpizar, Francisco & Carlsson, Fredrik & Johansson-Stenman, Olof, 2008. "Anonymity, reciprocity, and conformity: Evidence from voluntary contributions to a national park in Costa Rica," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 92(5-6), pages 1047-1060, June.
  16. John A. List, 2007. "On the Interpretation of Giving in Dictator Games," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 115, pages 482-493.
  17. Ellingsen, Tore & Johannesson, Magnus & Mollerstrom, Johanna & Munkhammar, Sara, 2012. "Social framing effects: Preferences or beliefs?," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 76(1), pages 117-130.
  18. Burnham, Terence C., 2003. "Engineering altruism: a theoretical and experimental investigation of anonymity and gift giving," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 50(1), pages 133-144, January.
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