Do Good Actions Inspire Good Actions in Others?

Scientific Reports 4, 7470 (2014)

6 Pages Posted: 18 Jun 2014 Last revised: 28 Jan 2015

See all articles by Valerio Capraro

Valerio Capraro

Middlesex University

Alessandra Marcelletti

University of Rome Tor Vergata - Faculty of Economics

Date Written: November 22, 2014


Actions such as sharing food and cooperating to reach a common goal have played a fundamental role in the evolution of human societies. Despite the importance of such good actions, little is known about if and how they can spread from person to person to person. For instance, does being recipient of an altruistic act increase your probability of being cooperative with a third party? We have conducted an experiment on Amazon Mechanical Turk to test this mechanism using economic games. We have measured willingness to be cooperative through a standard Prisoner's dilemma and willingness to act altruistically using a binary Dictator game. In the baseline treatments, the endowments needed to play were given by the experimenters, as usual; in the control treatments, they came from a good action made by someone else. Across four different comparisons and a total of 572 subjects, we have never found a significant increase of cooperation or altruism when the endowment came from a good action. We conclude that good actions do not necessarily inspire good actions in others. While this is consistent with the theoretical prediction, it challenges the majority of other experimental studies.

Keywords: altruism, cooperation, pro-sociality, Prisoner's dilemma, Dictator game

JEL Classification: C70, C79, C90, C91, C92, D64, D70

Suggested Citation

Capraro, Valerio and Marcelletti, Alessandra, Do Good Actions Inspire Good Actions in Others? (November 22, 2014). Scientific Reports 4, 7470 (2014), Available at SSRN: or

Valerio Capraro (Contact Author)

Middlesex University ( email )

The Burroughs
London, NW4 4BT
United Kingdom

Alessandra Marcelletti

University of Rome Tor Vergata - Faculty of Economics ( email )

Via Columbia n.2
Rome, rome 00100

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