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old post: Pay what you want or pay it forward?



From 2012

Imagine you walk into the Cartoon Museum and find that you don't need  to pay for admission, though you can donate if you choose. Would it  make a difference if you were asked to "Pay what you want" or to "Pay it  forward for?" Yup. People pay more if asked to pay it forward. And  yes, this really was done at the Cartoon Museum, which allowed  Berkeley's Lief Nelson and his colleagues to do exactly that  experiment. Nelson is trying to understand why. His lab has run a  series of studies in which participants are given money for showing up  at the study. Then they're given a "Cal" mug, for which they can make a  donation, if they want. After ruling out a few possibilities for why  "pay it forward" works, Nelson and his colleagues asked how much  participants thought others would pay for the mug. Somewhere north of  $2, said the participants, who themselves offered around $1.50. In a  subsequent trial, those in the "pay it forward" condition were told the  person who had paid for their mug had paid $1.50. Knowing that wiped  out the advantage of the "pay it forward" instruction, who paid around  $1.15, same as the "pay what you want" folks. Apparently part of the  reason that "pay it forward" works is that people sometimes overestimate  what those who paid for them had done.
I wonder, then, about the impact of societal narratives in which  people are portrayed as generous versus Randian- type narratives in  which people are told that they should simply act in their narrow self  interest. What are the consequences for generosity, and how important  is generosity for such things as development of thriving communities?


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