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Rewarding Altruism? A Natural Field Experiment

  • Nicola Lacetera
  • Mario Macis
  • Robert Slonim

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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File URL: http://www.nber.org/papers/w17636.pdf
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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 17636.

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Date of creation: Dec 2011
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Publication status: published as "Rewarding Volunteers: A Field Experiment," Management Science, 60(5), 1107–1129, 2014
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:17636
Note: HE LS PE
Contact details of provider: Postal: National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138, U.S.A.
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  1. Jessica Cohen & Pascaline Dupas, 2010. "Free Distribution or Cost-Sharing? Evidence from a Randomized Malaria Prevention Experiment," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 125(1), pages 1-45, February.
  2. Emma Hall & Carol Propper & John Van Reenen, 2008. "Can Pay Regulation Kill? Panel Data Evidence on the Effect of Labor Markets on Hospital Performance," CEP Discussion Papers dp0843, Centre for Economic Performance, LSE.
  3. repec:feb:artefa:0090 is not listed on IDEAS
  4. Carl Mellström & Magnus Johannesson, 2008. "Crowding Out in Blood Donation: Was Titmuss Right?," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 6(4), pages 845-863, 06.
  5. Lacetera, Nicola & Macis, Mario, 2009. "Do All Material Incentives for Prosocial Activities Backfire? The Response to Cash and Non-Cash Incentives for Blood Donations," IZA Discussion Papers 4458, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  6. John A. List, 2011. "The Market for Charitable Giving," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 25(2), pages 157-80, Spring.
  7. Ashraf, Nava & Bandiera, Oriana & Jack, Kelsey, 2012. "No margin, no mission? A Field Experiment on Incentives for Pro-Social Tasks," CEPR Discussion Papers 8834, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  8. Glenn Harrison & John List, 2004. "Field experiments," Artefactual Field Experiments 00058, The Field Experiments Website.
  9. Stephan Meier, 2006. "A survey of economic theories and field evidence on pro-social behavior," Working Papers 06-6, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
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