The following is an excerpt from “More about Generosity: An Addendum to the Generosity, Social Psychology and Philanthropy Literature Reviews,” (University of Notre Dame, July 7, 2009).

Andreoni, James. 2007. “Giving gifts to groups: How altruism depends on the number of recipients.” Journal of Public Economics 91:1731-1749.

When a single gift goes to a group of recipients, how does giving depend on the size of the group? This question is important for understanding charitable giving and fund-raising, public goods provision, family altruism, and more. If we think of the gift as giving up a dollar to create a social surplus, then we want to know how the number of recipients of that surplus affects its value to the giver. In other words, how congestible is altruism? This paper builds a theoretical framework for this question and begins to answer it with a controlled experiment. The finding is that for most subjects altruism is congestible. For the average subject, a gift that results in one person receiving x is equivalent to one in which n people receive x / n 0.68 each.

Boulet, Jacques, Lucy Healy, and Robyn Helton. 2008. “Gift relationships and their political economy: Of volunteering, community involvement and creating (a) civil society.” New Community Quarterly 6(2):28-41.

Falk, Armin. 2007. “Gift exchange in the field.” Econometrica 75:1501-1511.

This study reports evidence from a field experiment that was conducted to investigate the relevance of gift exchange in a natural setting. In collaboration with a charitable organization, we sent roughly 10,000 solicitation letters to potential donors. One-third of the letters contained no gift, one-third contained a small gift, and one-third contained a large gift. Treatment assignment was random. The results confirm the economic importance of gift exchange. Compared to the no gift condition, the relative frequency of donations increased by 17 percent if a small gift was included and by 75 percent for a large gift. The study extends the current body of research on gift exchange, which is almost exclusively confined to laboratory studies.
Dunn, Elizabeth W., Jeff Untsinger, Janetta Lun, and Stacey Sinclair. 2008. “The gift of similarity: How good and bad gifts influence relationships.” Social Cognition 26:469-481.
We tested the hypothesis that gifts act as markers of interpersonal similarity for both acquaintances and close relationship partners. Participants were led to believe that a new opposite sex acquaintance (Experiment 1) or romantic partner (Experiment 2) had selected either a desirable or undesirable gift for them. In Experiment 1, men viewed themselves as less similar to their new acquaintance after receiving a bad versus good gift from her, whereas women’s perceived similarity ratings were unaffected by gift quality. In Experiment 2, men reported decreased similarity to their romantic partner after receiving a bad gift, whereas women responded to the bad gift more positively; perceived similarity, in turn, had an impact on participants’ evaluations of the relationship’s future potential. This research highlights the need for more experimental work on gift-giving, which has been largely overlooked by mainstream social psychologists despite its economic and interpersonal significance. (PsycINFO)

Komter, Aafke. 2007. “Gifts and social relations.” International Sociology 22:93-107.

In the modern gift literature an anti-utilitarian and a utilitarian view on the giftcan be distinguished. From the anti-utilitarian perspective, the freedom of the gift is seen as one of its main characteristics, while the idea that gifts are caught in a cycle of reciprocity is downplayed. In the utilitarian approach, assumptions about rational actors weighing their preferences according to some utility are predominant. In the first approach, reciprocity is seen as undermining ‘genuine’ gifts. The utilitarian approach does take reciprocity into account but fails to analyse why the principle of reciprocity is so effective. This article attempts to provide such an explanation. By illuminating both the variety of the forms of the gift and the universality of the underlying principle, it is argued that gifts reflect a multi-purpose symbolic ‘utility’ that transcends both utilitarianism and anti-utilitarianism.

Sargeant, Adrian, and Lucy Woodliffe. 2007. “Gift-giving: An interdisciplinary review.” International Journal of Nonprofit & Voluntary Sector Marketing 12:275-307.

The issue of why individuals choose to support charity has been the focus of considerable research in the disciplines of economics, psychology, social psychology, sociology, anthropology and more recently, management and marketing. This paper draws together extant work, developing a content model of giving behavior that fundraisers may use to inform their professional practice. A number of specific propositions are developed from the literature to assist in this goal. The paper provides summary tables of existing empirical studies categorized by the dimensions of the model, explores ambiguity in research findings, and concludes by highlighting opportunities for further research.