Essays on the Determinants of Prosocial Behavior in Singapore

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Essays on the Determinants of Prosocial Behavior in Singapore

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Title: Essays on the Determinants of Prosocial Behavior in Singapore
Author: Lim, Daniel ORCID  0000-0003-3804-268X
Citation: Lim, Daniel. 2015. Essays on the Determinants of Prosocial Behavior in Singapore. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
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Abstract: Previous research has sought to explain why people engage in prosocial behavior and undertake activities that are costly to themselves and mostly benefit others, such as volunteering and donating. My dissertation comprises three essays that collectively explore the determinants of prosocial behavior and leverages insights from behavioral economics to design interventions to nudge people to behave more prosocially. The first essay is an observational study that examines how rapid demographic changes reduced informal volunteering but not formal volunteering in Singapore. The findings suggest that structural factors such as racial diversification and the availability of institutions that promote inclusiveness could be more important than individual-level characteristics in explaining prosocial behavior. The second essay is a field experiment that explores how tailoring messages to resonate with peoples' underlying motivations for volunteering can increase their likelihood of actually volunteering. The third essay examines how behavioral modifications to public engagement campaigns can increase their effectiveness in changing behaviors. Overall, the second and third essays suggest that actual volunteering behavior is the realization of interactions between innate propensities to volunteer and situational factors. For example, non-volunteers might have a lower predisposition for volunteering compared to current volunteers, but they can still be nudged to volunteer if exposed to the appropriate type of messaging. Similarly, individuals with high prosocial tendencies might never get around to volunteering because they procrastinate or possess time-inconsistent preferences. We therefore have to account for situational factors in order to develop a complete understanding of why people behave prosocially.
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