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Anonymity, nonverbal communication and prosociality in digitized interactions: An experiment on charitable giving

24 aprile 2024
2:00 pm
San Francesco Complex - classroom 2

We empirically examine the value of modern digital communication tools for inducing prosocial behaviour.

In our online experiment (N = 594), charity members transmit a standardized message to potential donors through alternative digital communication channels varying the amount of nonverbal content (written message in the baseline TEXT condition vs. voice recording in AUDIO vs. video-recorded discourse in VIDEO).

We find partial support for the initial conjecture that individuals are more cooperative towards
strangers the less anonymous the latter become to the former. Compared to the baseline TEXT condition, our AUDIO treatment induces a nearly 40% increase in the average donation. However, the transmission of nonverbal cues may backfire: the effect observed in the richest VIDEO condition has only half the magnitude of the one in AUDIO. We attribute this phenomenon to the “avoiding the ask” behaviour previously documented in the charity giving literature. We also rule out the possibility that these treatment effects stem from perceptual mechanisms by which these changes in prosociality are driven by the differences in the perception of charity members in the stimuli, suggesting that the treatment effects capture the intrinsic value of reducing anonymity for promoting prosociality in the digital world.


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Adam Zylbersztejn, University of Lyon 2 (Lumière) and GATE-LSE