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Doing the right thing: What really motivates us


How can people be motivated to do the right thing? What incentives are needed to get people involved in park maintenance, get them to use public transportation more often, or choose a healthier lifestyle? A new study conducted at WU (Vienna University of Economics and Business) is investigating these questions.

In the study, Jakob Hackel and Alfred Taudes from WU’s Research Institute for Cryptoeconomics are working together with co-authors from the Tokyo universities Rissho, Soka, and Meiji to find out if economic or social incentives can help encourage altruistic behavior. In their experiment, the researchers discovered that economic incentives are a good way to motivate people who do not already contribute to the public good or do so only at a minimal level. Social incentives were effective in increasing the number of people willing to contribute extensively.

Behavioral economics in practice

The findings are of considerable practical value, for example for cities and municipalities: If a large number of people use common goods like parks and forests without contributing to their maintenance, economic incentives can help. If, on the other hand, there is a small group of citizens who are very active in working for a specific public good, social incentives can be effective in attracting additional contributors.

The study was part of a partnership with the City of Vienna, which is currently testing a Culture Token pilot program. The Culture Token is a digital bonus system based on an app that rewards users for environmentally friendly behavior with free access to cultural events. The pilot project has been temporarily suspended due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The study has been published in the journal PLOS ONE.

To the study
Jakob Hackel, Alfred Taudes, Hitoshi Yamamoto, Isamu Okada, Akira Goto: “Asymmetric effects of social and economic incentives on cooperation in real effort based public goods games”
Available here: https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0249217

Further information on the Culture Token project: https://digitales.wien.gv.at/en/projekt/culture-token/

Alexander Vieß
Research Communication
WU (Vienna University of Economics and Business)
Tel.: + 43-1-31336-5478
Email: alexander.viess@wu.ac.at

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