Re: poly: Warm-Glow, not Altruism

From: Robin Hanson <>
Date: Wed May 20 1998 - 16:45:54 PDT

Nick wites:
>> "Anomalous Behavior in Public Goods Experiments: How Much
>> and Why?"
>I had a quick look at the paper, but I see a general problem with
>economics experiment design to test altruistic behaviour. They all
>seem to depend on the assumption that an altruistic subject would act
>to maximize the payoff for the group he is in. But why should an
>altruist think the world is better of if he can transfer some money
>from economics researchers to an unknown group of self-selected

The problem is that there are so many possible kinds of "altruism".
It's true that some kinds of altruism would not make people desire
to transfer money from experimenters to volunteers. But people did
see something that looked like such a desire, and they thought it
natural to call that "altruism".

Since this experiment suggests that the main effect isn't any sort of
altruism, it's not so important to track down what exact form of
altruism might be going on. But one could test for Nick's concern
by making it clear to subjects that any value the subjects didn't gain
was going to be "burned" and not available to anyone. Heck, maybe someone
already did test for this.

Robin Hanson
RWJF Health Policy Scholar, Sch. of Public Health 510-643-1884
140 Warren Hall, UC Berkeley, CA 94720-7360 FAX: 510-643-8614
Received on Wed May 20 23:50:54 1998

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