Taking the road less travelled: two essays on encouraging uncommon prosocial behaviors (2021)
Encouraging prosocial consumer behaviors (i.e., behaviors that involve individual self-sacrifice for the benefit of others) can often be difficult, especially when such behaviors are uncommon. This dissertation illustrates how comparing low rates of descriptive norms (i.e., what people actually do) with other information can highlight the differences between desired and current states, thereby encouraging uncommon, but socially desirable behaviors. I demonstrate how these comparisons can encourage uncommon prosocial behavior in two different domains: charitable giving and organ donor registration. In essay 1 (7 studies, N = 2,739), I explore how charities that have made little progress towards their fundraising goals can raise funds more effectively by including comparisons with a different charity closer to its goal. I show that when charitable organizations are presented jointly, the comparison highlights relative need leading to greater giving to the organization further from its goal. I further demonstrate that this occurs only when communal norms are active, such as when donating to charities, but not when people focus on market exchange norms for businesses. I test the robustness of the effect by varying the level of goal progress, emphasizing the amount needed to reach the goal, and making it possible for the donor to complete the goal. Finally, I use a large dataset pulled from kiva.org to empirically demonstrate this effect on giving in real crowdfunding situations. In essay 2 (5 studies, N = 2,965), I demonstrate that combining low descriptive norms with high injunctive norms (i.e., what others think we should do), making salient the discrepancy between what people think they should do and what they actually do, results in greater organ donor registrations than communicating either descriptive or injunctive norms separately. I show that feelings of responsibility mediate these findings and that making the situation feel psychologically close increases responsibility and intentions to register for low descriptive and high injunctive norms alone, to the level of combined norms. Overall, this dissertation helps extend our understanding of how comparative messaging can indeed increase prosocial behaviors with low rates of prevalence.