SPI Working Paper Series

WP #: 110

Date: Dec 2014

Other Sources


@ Other

Wallflowers: Experimental Evidence of an Aversion to Standing Out

     This paper was published in Management Science in 2014

    Daniel Jones, Sera Linardi

    University of Pittsburgh
    University of Pittsburgh

An extensive literature on reputation signaling in prosocial settings has focused on an intrinsic desire for positive reputation. In our paper, we provide experimental evidence that some individuals are averse to both positive and negative reputation and will therefore respond to visibility by signaling that they are an "average altruism type" relative to their audience. We formalize our hypotheses about "wallflower" behavior in a theoretical model. Our experimental results show that instead of uniformly increasing contributions, visibility draws contributions towards the middle of others’ contributions. As a result, visibility is associated with higher levels of giving only when in scenarios where others are giving a large amount. We also observe heterogeneity in reputation concerns: wallflower behavior is particularly strong for women and can be observed in several different settings.

SPI Quick Look:
A commonly held assumption is that people like their generosity to be advertised. This paper shows that some individuals are instead averse to both positive and negative reputation. As a result, these donors tend to mimic the "average" donor to avoid standing out, even if in principle they were willing to give more.