The Trouble with Invisible Men

How Reputational Concerns Motivate Generosity
  • Robb Willer
  • Matthew Feinberg
  • Kyle Irwin
  • Michael Schultz
  • Brent Simpson
Part of the Handbooks of Sociology and Social Research book series (HSSR)


Traditionally, research on the causes of prosocial behavior – acts that benefit others, often at a cost to the self – has focused on the role of either material incentives or altruistic motivations in fostering generosity. Here, we review research on a third class of explanation based on reputation. In recent years, research on the interplay between prosocial behavior and reputation has drawn the attention of researchers from disciplines as diverse as economics, psychology, sociology, anthropology, and biology, along the way establishing complex, reciprocal links between reputational standing and generosity. Here, we review some promising strains of research in this area, focusing on the dynamics of reputational gain as a reward encouraging prosociality, how reputation systems are maintained in groups, and evolutionary models relating reputation and prosocial behavior. This review establishes that (1) individuals receive diverse social and material benefits for developing a reputation as a generous person, (2) these rewards for prosocial behavior influence decisions to behave prosocially in at least two theoretically distinct ways, (3) reputational differentiation, in terms of status, structures contributions to group efforts in ways that can make groups more productive, (4) reputations are critical to the maintenance of informal, social sanctioning systems, (5) reputation systems are maintained in part because individuals spontaneously share information on others’ past levels of prosocial behavior, and (6) reputational dynamics may have encouraged the evolution of prosociality via biological and/or cultural evolution.


Collective Action Prosocial Behavior Social Dilemma Reputation System Status Hierarchy 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Robb Willer and Brent Simpson wish to acknowledge support from the National Science Foundation (SES 0647169).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robb Willer
    • 1
  • Matthew Feinberg
    • 2
  • Kyle Irwin
    • 3
  • Michael Schultz
    • 1
  • Brent Simpson
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of SociologyUniversity of CaliforniaBerkeleyUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of CaliforniaBerkeleyUSA
  3. 3.Department of SociologyBaylor UniversityWacoUSA
  4. 4.Department of SociologyUniversity of South CarolinaBerkeleyUSA

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