Experimental Economics

, Volume 15, Issue 1, pp 229–240 | Cite as

Decomposing desert and tangibility effects in a charitable giving experiment

  • David ReinsteinEmail author
  • Gerhard Riener


Several papers have documented that when subjects play with standard laboratory “endowments” they make less self-interested choices than when they use money they have either earned through a laboratory task or brought from outside the lab. In the context of a charitable giving experiment we decompose this into two common artifacts of the laboratory: the intangibility of money (or experimental currency units) promised on a computer screen relative to cash in hand, and the distinct treatment of random “windfall” gains relative to earned money. While both effects are found to be significant in non-parametric tests, the former effect, which has been neglected in previous studies, has a stronger impact on total donations, while the latter effect has a greater impact on the probability of donating. These results have clear implications for experimental design, and also suggest that the availability of more abstract payment methods may increase other-regarding behavior in the field.


House money effect Experimental methodology Tangibility Public goods Charitable giving Individual choice Altruism 

JEL Classification

C91 D03 D64 


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Supplementary material

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Copyright information

© Economic Science Association 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of EconomicsUniversity of EssexColchesterUK
  2. 2.University of JenaJenaGermany

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