DOI: 10.1177/09567976241234560 ISSN: 0956-7976

The Interactive Effect of Incentive Salience and Prosocial Motivation on Prosocial Behavior

Y. Rin Yoon, Kaitlin Woolley
  • General Psychology

Charities often use incentives to increase prosocial action. However, charities sometimes downplay these incentives in their messaging (pilot study), possibly to avoid demotivating donors. We challenge this strategy, examining whether increasing the salience of incentives for prosocial action can in fact motivate charitable behavior. Three controlled experiments ( N = 2,203 adults) and a field study with an alumni-donation campaign ( N = 22,468 adults) found that more (vs. less) salient incentives are more effective at increasing prosocial behavior when prosocial motivation is low (vs. high). This is because more (vs. less) salient incentives increase relative consideration of self-interest (vs. other-regarding) benefits, which is a stronger driver of behavior at low (vs. high) levels of prosocial motivation. By identifying that prosocial motivation moderates the effect of incentive salience on charitable behavior, and by detailing the underlying mechanism, we advance theory and practice on incentive salience, motivation, and charitable giving.

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