Paying to Be Nice: Consistency and Costly Prosocial Behavior

Management Science, Vol. 58, pp. 179-187, 2012

21 Pages Posted: 4 Mar 2012  

Ayelet Gneezy

University of California, San Diego (UCSD) - Rady School of Management

Alex Imas

University of California, San Diego (UCSD)

Leif D. Nelson

University of California, Berkeley - Haas School of Business

Amber Brown

Disney Imaginations - Boston

Michael I. Norton

Harvard Business School - Marketing Unit

Date Written: July 15, 2011

Abstract

Building on previous research in economics and psychology, we propose that the costliness of initial prosocial behavior positively influences whether that behavior leads to consistent future behaviors. We suggest that costly prosocial behaviors serve as a signal of prosocial identity and that people subsequently behave in line with that self-perception. In contrast, costless prosocial acts do not signal much about one’s prosocial identity, so subsequent behavior is less likely to be consistent and may even show the reductions in prosocial behavior associated with licensing. The results of a laboratory experiment and a large field experiment converge to support our account.

Suggested Citation

Gneezy, Ayelet and Imas, Alex and Nelson, Leif D. and Brown, Amber and Norton, Michael I., Paying to Be Nice: Consistency and Costly Prosocial Behavior (July 15, 2011). Management Science, Vol. 58, pp. 179-187, 2012. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2015104

Ayelet Gneezy (Contact Author)

University of California, San Diego (UCSD) - Rady School of Management ( email )

9500 Gilman Drive
Rady School of Management
La Jolla, CA 92093
United States

Alex Imas

University of California, San Diego (UCSD) ( email )

9500 Gilman Drive
Mail Code 0502
La Jolla, CA 92093-0112
United States

Leif D. Nelson

University of California, Berkeley - Haas School of Business ( email )

545 Student Services Building, #1900
2220 Piedmont Avenue
Berkeley, CA 94720
United States

Amber Brown

Disney Imaginations - Boston ( email )

Boston, MA
United States

Michael I. Norton

Harvard Business School - Marketing Unit ( email )

Soldiers Field
Boston, MA 02163
United States

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