Experimental Economics

, Volume 17, Issue 4, pp 501–511 | Cite as

An experimental study of prosocial motivation among criminals

  • Sigbjørn Birkeland
  • Alexander W. Cappelen
  • Erik Ø. Sørensen
  • Bertil Tungodden
Original Paper


The fact that criminal behavior typically has negative consequences for others provides a compelling reason to think that criminals lack prosocial motivation. This paper reports the results from two dictator game experiments designed to study the prosocial motivation of criminals. In a lab experiment involving prisoners, we find a striking similarity in the prosocial behavior of criminals and non-criminals, both when they interact with criminals and when they interact with non-criminals. Similarly, in an Internet experiment on a large sample from the general population, we find no difference in the prosocial behavior of individuals with and without a criminal record. We argue that our findings provide evidence of criminals being as prosocially motivated as non-criminals in an important type of distributive situations.


Prosocial motivation Criminals 

JEL Classification

C91 D63 K40 



We would like to thank Tore Ellingsen, James Konow, Michel Maréchal, Karl Ove Moene, Sendhil Mullainathan, Ulrik Haagen Nielsen, Agnar Sandmo, Jean-Robert Tyran and Erik Wengström for valuable comments and suggestions. We would also like to thank Harald Aasaune at Bjørgvin Prison and Leif Waage at the Norwegian Correctional Services for their cooperation, Magne Ludvigsen, Bjørn Ivar Grøttå, Morten Sæthre, and Kristian Øpstad for IT-support, and Henrik Birkeland, Øystein Dvergsdal, Trygve Eiken, Lars Engebretsen, Hans Petter Gramer, Cathrine Gravdal, Ole-Aleksander Greve, Line Halvorsen, Trond Halvorsen, Liv Eline Hetland, Jon Rasmussen, Karoline Salamonsen, Jonas Tungodden, and Fredrik Young-Halvorsen for research assistance. A special thank to Ulrik Haagen Nielsen for help with the Internet experiment. The project was financed by support from the Research Council of Norway, research grant 185831, and the Center for the Study of Mind in Nature, University of Oslo, and administered by The Choice Lab at the Norwegian School of Economics.

Supplementary material

10683_2013_9380_MOESM1_ESM.docx (47 kb)
(DOCX 47 kB)


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Copyright information

© Economic Science Association 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Sigbjørn Birkeland
    • 1
  • Alexander W. Cappelen
    • 1
  • Erik Ø. Sørensen
    • 1
  • Bertil Tungodden
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of EconomicsNHH Norwegian School of EconomicsBergenNorway

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