DOI: 10.1002/bdm.2365 ISSN: 0894-3257

Can you change my generosity towards future others? The impact of observability on intertemporal pro‐social decisions

Mei Hong, Dapeng Liang, Teng Lu
  • Strategy and Management
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Applied Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • General Decision Sciences


Research has demonstrated that delays in realizing pro‐social decisions significantly influence pro‐social choices. However, the impact of time delay may vary by context. A key contextual factor is decision observability (i.e., the visibility of one's decision to others). Using a dictator game task with delayed rewards, the current study examined the effects of observability on intertemporal pro‐social choices. Subjects were randomly assigned to either an Anonymous group, where payment was private, or an Observable group, involving public payment. They had to decide between the selfish option (which only benefited the subject) and the generous option (sharing money with another person in a specific delay condition). Our data revealed that subjects were less eager to forgo money when time delay increased and showed more selfishness toward specific people, independent of decision observability. This pattern was aligned with a hyperbolic discounting model. Notably, observability mitigated the impact of time delay; subjects were more inclined to donate to temporally distant individuals when their decisions were observable instead of anonymous. In addition, we discuss the practical implications of observability for designing intertemporal donation appeals.

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