IACM 2022 Abstract Book »
Affective Gambles: How Uncertainty Transforms Prosocial Behavior
Many prosocial behaviors involve uncertainty (often, individuals’ attempts to help others can fail). Current prosocial-behavior research, emphasizing “rational altruism” theories, asserts that prosocial behavior will decrease when prosocial outcomes are framed as losses (“decreasing social losses”) rather than gains (“increasing social gains”). We demonstrate that this pattern, previously found in riskless prosocial behavior, actually reverses in risky prosocial behavior. Our incentivized experiments show that framing prosocial outcomes as losses rather than gains increases risky (but not riskless) prosocial behavior. This nudge is nearly 10× stronger than prior prosocial-behavior nudges. In sum, uncertainty transforms prosocial behavior: when prosocial behavior is riskless, prosocial decisions align with rational altruism; when prosocial behavior is risky, it is perceived as an “affective gamble” and prosocial decisions follow prospect-theory altruism instead.