Public goods and future audiences: acting as role models?

Social Macroeconomics working paper
Giuseppe Attanasi
Roberta Dessí
Frédéric Moisan
Donald Robertson

Individuals' decisions to behave prosocially (or the contrary) can often be observed by other individuals with no direct connection to them, but who may nevertheless be influenced by them (eg through social media). Does knowing that they may be viewed as role models by other, notably younger, people affect the way individuals behave? Does it make them more likely to behave prosocially?

The authors study how participants' behaviour in an experimental public good game is affected when they know that information about their choices and outcomes, together with different sets of information about their identity, will be transmitted the following year to a set of new, unknown, younger participants – with no payoff linkages between the two sets of players. When subjects know their photo, choices and outcomes will be transmitted, they contribute significantly less. The paper proposes different possible explanations, and argues that the most convincing is based on image concerns, but in a surprising way: subjects in the photo treatment care about not being perceived as "suckers" by future players.