The Fragility of a Nudge: Using Observation with Social and Economic Incentives to Promote Pro-Social Behavior
61 Pages Posted: 26 Dec 2018
Date Written: October 15, 2019
Both theory and recent empirical evidence on nudging suggest that observability of behavior acts as an instrument for promoting (discouraging) pro-social (anti-social) behavior. In a series of experiments, we question the universality of these claims. We employ a novel four-party setup to disentangle the roles that the relevant observational mechanisms play in affecting pro- and anti-social behavior. We systematically vary the observability of one's actions by others as well as the (non-)monetary relationship between observer and observee. Surprisingly, observation without economic consequences fails to achieve an aggregate pro-social effect and, if anything, backfires. Additional experiments show that the noticeable backfiring is driven by inequality concerns: the tested nudge reorients considerations away from charitable giving and towards a comparison of decider and observer payoffs. We propose and successfully test a solution: increasing the focus on social norms.
Keywords: Anti-Social Behavior, Experiment, Nudge, Pro-Social Behavior, Reputation
JEL Classification: C91, D64, D9
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation