Recent Publications and Working Papers

"Natural-field dictator game shows no altruistic giving," Jeffrey Winking, Nicholas Mizer, Department of Anthropology, Texas A&M University


A number of recent studies have revealed just how remarkably sensitive participants are to cues of a lack of anonymity. Similarly, others have suggested that the very structure of the experimental context induces participants to choose prosocial options. In order to truly create anonymous conditions and to eliminate the effects of experimental contexts, participants must not be aware of their participation. Here, I present the results of a natural-field Dictator Game in which participants are presented with a believable endowment and provided an opportunity to divide the endowment with a stranger without knowing that they are taking part in an experiment. No participants gave any portion of the endowment to the stranger. Baseline frequencies of prosocial behaviors exhibited under experimental contexts might therefore be substantially inflated compared to those exhibited.

"The Importance of Being Marginal: Gender Differences in Generosity," Stefano Dellavigna, John A. List, Ulrike Malmendiet, Gautum Rao. National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper No. 18748


Do men and women have different social preferences? Previous findings are contradictory. We provide a potential explanation using evidence from a field experiment. In a door-to-door solicitation, men and women are equally generous, but women become less generous when it becomes easy to avoid the solicitor. Our structural estimates of the social preference parameters suggest an explanation: women are more likely to be on the margin of giving, partly because of a less dispersed distribution of altruism. We find similar results for the willingness to complete an unpaid survey: women are more likely to be on the margin of participation.

"Parenting and Beyond: Common Neurocircuits Underlying Parental and Altruistic Caregiving," James E. Swain, Sara Konrath, Stephanie L. Brown, Eric D. Finegood, Leyla B. Akce, Carolyn J. Dayton, and S. Shaun Ho


Interpersonal relationships constitute the foundation on which human society is based. The infant–caregiver bond is the earliest and most influential of these relationships. Driven by evolutionary pressure for survival, parents feel compelled to provide care to their biological offspring. However, compassion for non-kin is also ubiquitous in human societies, motivating individuals to suppress their own self-interests to promote the well-being of non-kin members of the society. We argue that the process of early kinship-selective parental care provides the foundation for non-exclusive altruism via the activation of a general Caregiving System that regulates compassion in any of its forms. We propose a tripartite structure of this system that includes (1) the perception of need in another, (2) a caring motivational or feeling state, and (3) the delivery of a helping response to the individual in need. Findings from human and animal research point to specific neurobiological mechanisms including activation of the insula and the secretion of oxytocin that support the adaptive functioning of this Caregiving System.

Measuring Interpersonal Generosity

"An IG Scale Conceptualized, Tested, and Validated," Christian Smith, Sociology, University of Notre Dame; Jon Hill, Sociology, Calvin College

This working paper represents an attempt to conceptualize interpersonal generosity and develop a scale for measuring the degree to which individuals spend time, attention, emotion, or energy to enhance the well-being of others. The paper reports preliminary testing of the IGS using questions fielded in a recent survey. Comments on the paper--downloadable at the link above--are welcome.