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Is the Key to Successful Prosocial Nudges Reputation?

Erez Yoeli: In the last 30 years, the behavioral community has documented a myriad of quirks of altruism: we display warm glow; we’re weirdly sensitive to defaults and communication around norms, frames, and identity; we give readily, but are even quicker to exploit moral wiggle room or avoid the ask in the first place; we give most readily when observed. In the meantime, as a recent review by Todd Rogers, Noah Goldstein, and Craig Fox documents, our community of nudgers has seized upon the opportunity afforded by these scientific advances by developing, testing, and disseminating a plethora of practical and effective interventions for promoting good deeds. Motivated by the literature on the evolution of cooperation, we at the Applied Cooperation Team at Yale University add to these scientific advances by taking seriously the contention that humans’ altruistic preferences are (largely subconsciously) shaped by reputational motives. This view contrasts with the standard behavioral approach, which emphasizes psychological benefits, like assuaging self-image concerns.

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