DP12413 Public goods, role models and "sucker aversion": the audience matters

Author(s): Giuseppe Attanasi, Roberta Dessí, Frederic Moisan, Donald Robertson
Publication Date: October 2017
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Programme Areas: Public Economics
Link to this Page: www.cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=12413

Intergenerational interactions play an important part in society with older generations often acting as role models that influence younger ones. We investigate in a public good experiment how the behavior of more experienced and knowledgeable players (graduate students) is affected when they are informed that some of their personal and behavioral characteristics will be transmitted to future first-year undergraduates (enrolling the following year) playing the same game at the same university. In the "information" treatment, the history of behavior is transmitted with some personal characteristics (e.g. age and gender). In the "photo" treatment, a photo is also transmitted. Despite the absence of any monetary linkage between generations, our results show a significant effect of visibility by the future audience on initial contributions and dynamic behavior. Contrary to previous findings in the literature, contributions are lower in the presence of such personal identification. We explain this surprising negative effect by a "sucker aversion" bias according to which people become more sensitive to being perceived as exploited by their peers. We argue that the nature of the "audience" matters in reaching such an undesirable outcome.