Sustaining Behavioral Change Through the Formation of Identity: Field Experimental Evidence
65 Pages Posted: 11 Mar 2023
Date Written: March 7, 2023
This paper shows how creating a strong link between identity and behavior shapes self-perception and induces sustained behavioral change. In a large-scale field experiment to address non-payment for public services, I use messages that establish a link between payment behavior and the identity of being a responsible citizen. I find three main effects: First, the messages induce additional short-term payments. Second, individuals update their self-perceptions of being a responsible citizen as a consequence of their payment behavior. Third, the messages improve longer-term payments. A treatment variation asking for payments without linking behavior to identity, in contrast, only induces additional short-term payments but neither changes self-perception nor improves longer-term payments. These findings provide evidence on a key prediction of self-signaling identity models: Individuals form beliefs about themselves by observing their choices but only when the identity-behavior link is salient. The desire to maintain a positive self-perception motivates sustained behavioral change.
Keywords: Identity formation, persistence of treatment effects, civic identity
JEL Classification: C93, D90, G28, L95
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation