Asking to Give: Moral Licensing and Pro-Social Behavior in the Aggregate
45 Pages Posted: 13 Sep 2021 Last revised: 26 Jan 2023
Date Written: September 9, 2021
We study the effect of repeated opportunities for pro-social behavior on aggregate pro-social behavior through two laboratory experiments and field data on charitable giving. Our first experiment shows that two consecutive pro-social decisions (donations to a charity) lead to moral licensing, where the presence of a first donation lowers the second donation. However, we also find that offering multiple opportunities to donate increases aggregate contributions compared to control conditions holding the total donation possibility constant. The second experiment studies the potential drivers of this result and finds that people respond positively to each additional ask, regardless of whether the asks are presented simultaneously or sequentially. We observe similar patterns in field data from 73 charity campaigns sent by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to 455,102 individuals between 2013-2020. Our findings indicate that moral licensing does not negatively impact aggregate pro-social behavior. This is good news for managers of charitable organizations who are concerned about the effects of repeated fundraising activities.
Keywords: pro-social behavior, giving, moral licensing, ask effects, experiment
JEL Classification: C91, D03, H41,
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation