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Rewarding Altruism? A Natural Field Experiment

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  • Nicola Lacetera
  • Mario Macis
  • Robert Slonim

Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

  • Nicola Lacetera & Mario Macis & Robert Slonim, 2011. "Rewarding Altruism? A Natural Field Experiment," NBER Working Papers 17636, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:17636
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Stephan Meier, 2006. "A survey of economic theories and field evidence on pro-social behavior," Working Papers 06-6, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
    2. Carol Propper & John Van Reenen, 2010. "Can Pay Regulation Kill? Panel Data Evidence on the Effect of Labor Markets on Hospital Performance," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 118(2), pages 222-273, April.
    3. Glenn W. Harrison & John A. List, 2004. "Field Experiments," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 42(4), pages 1009-1055, December.
    4. 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.
    5. John A. List, 2011. "The Market for Charitable Giving," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 25(2), pages 157-180, Spring.
    6. 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, June.
    7. 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.
    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. repec:feb:artefa:0090 is not listed on IDEAS
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    Cited by:

    1. Ashraf, Nava & Bandiera, Oriana & Jack, B. Kelsey, 2014. "No margin, no mission? A field experiment on incentives for public service delivery," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 120(C), pages 1-17.
    2. Lacetera, Nicola & Macis, Mario & Stith, Sarah S., 2014. "Removing financial barriers to organ and bone marrow donation: The effect of leave and tax legislation in the U.S," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 33(C), pages 43-56.
    3. Christine Exley, 2013. "Incentives for Prosocial Behavior: The Role of Reputations," Discussion Papers 12-022, Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.
    4. Victor Iajya & Nicola Lacetera & Mario Macis & Robert Slonim, 2012. "The Effects of Information, Social and Economic Incentives on Voluntary Undirected Blood Donations: Evidence from a Randomized Controlled Trial in Argentina," NBER Working Papers 18630, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    5. Joan Costa-Font & Mireia Jofre-Bonet & Steven T. Yen, 2013. "Not All Incentives Wash Out the Warm Glow: The Case of Blood Donation Revisited," Kyklos, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 66(4), pages 529-551, November.
    6. repec:kap:expeco:v:21:y:2018:i:3:d:10.1007_s10683-016-9503-2 is not listed on IDEAS

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • C93 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Field Experiments
    • D01 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Microeconomic Behavior: Underlying Principles
    • D03 - Microeconomics - - General - - - Behavioral Microeconomics: Underlying Principles
    • D64 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Altruism; Philanthropy; Intergenerational Transfers
    • H41 - Public Economics - - Publicly Provided Goods - - - Public Goods
    • I12 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - Health - - - Health Behavior

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