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The Begetting of Greed and Generosity: Examining the Social Cognitive Mechanisms of Generalized Reciprocity

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Abstract

In the absence of the ability to directly reciprocate greed or generosity, individuals are often disposed to exact similar treatment onto unrelated, third-party others. This concept of generalized reciprocity (i.e., pay-it-forward) has widely captivated the public’s interest but has escaped the enthusiasm of the academic community. In this dissertation, 9 experiments utilized a repeated dictator game with changing partners design to systematically investigate the mechanisms underlying this phenomenon. In Study 1, participants (i.e., college students) were randomly assigned to receive either $0 (Greed), $5 (Equity), or $10 (Generosity) out of $10 from a supposed other and were given the option to pass on any amount of $10 onto another, unrelated individual. Results showed that those who experienced greed tended to pay the greed forward and this was mediated by attribution of greed (e.g., “the other person is greedy”) but not negative affect. Study 2 replicated Study 1 and further found that participants (i.e., college students) used the experience of their initial treatment to infer the average amount people in general paid forward, which subsequently informed their own decisions. Studies 3-9 utilized a 2 × 2 between-subjects experimental design to examine the efficacy of interventions targeting greed attribution and norm beliefs. An intervention targeting perceived intentionality showed greatest promise in promoting positive generalized reciprocity (Studies 5 & 8) while interventions descriptive norm appeals appeared to only work on naïve participants (Studies 6 & 9). Interventions targeting perceived locus of control (Studies 3 & 4) and injunctive norm appeals (Study 7) showed little to no promise for influencing generalized reciprocity. A non-systematic mini meta-analysis (Study 10) of 16 studies across three papers revealed the generalized reciprocity effect to be large and pervasive. Additional implications are discussed.

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This item is under embargo until December 10, 2023.