Exploring the reasons behind prosocial behavior

by Elena Bizon, Junior Project Manager, swissnex in New York

On Wednesday July 12, HEC Lausanne and swissnex in New York organized a special panel bringing together two professors in behavioral economics and decision making, as well as a practitioner from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

Adrian Bruhin, Professor of Economics at the HEC Lausanne – the Business Faculty of the University of Lausanne – first presented his research on “The Role of Social Interaction in Voluntary Blood Donations.” He raised questions, such as “is prosocial behavior contagious?” He demonstrated that motivation is indeed contagious for a social network, even more so when the members of the network have strong ties amongst themselves.

After his presentation, a panel discussion addressed the broader event topic of “How to Do Good: Insights from the Science of Prosocial Behavior & Practitioners.” Danielle Larrabee from the IFRC described some of the new trends in volunteering today. She mentioned that while in decades and centuries past, people helped because there were emergencies and crises, nowadays volunteers want more than just helping others for altruistic reasons; they look for experience and/or want to become part of a community. Along with Stephan Meier, Professor of Business at Columbia University, the panel of experts addressed questions on the role of peers in motivation and its amplification. They revealed that a strong social identification within a group positively influences others through a “motivation spillover effect.” Someone who strongly identifies himself or herself with a group – for example friends or political parties – is more likely to be engage in the same behavior.

“So, do good; prosocial behavior is contagious!” Professor Bruhin concluded.