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WeChat Is Running a Natural Experiment in Human Generosity

Back in 2104, the Chinese web giant WeChat launched an unusual application. Called Red Packet, it allows users to donate money to a group of friends or contacts. The concept is based on the Chinese tradition of hongbao (“red packet”), where people give money to friends or relatives as a gift. However, there is a twist — WeChat does not divide the money equally between the recipients. Instead, the money is split randomly. Once the division has taken place, the amount each recipient receives is revealed and the person with the largest slice of the pie is crowned the “luckiest draw recipient.” That has made possible an unusual study. Recipients often share their luck by sending a portion of their winnings to other people, “paying it forward.” But little is known about this behavior, how it arises, and how people respond to it. For example, do people who receive more give greater sums away?

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