Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2019

Author's School

Graduate School of Arts and Sciences

Author's Department

Business Administration

Degree Name

Doctor of Liberal Arts (DLA)

Degree Type



Consumers and companies often consider the welfare of others when making decisions. Consumers might spend their money donating to meaningful causes or choose to purchase from socially responsible companies. Companies must also choose whether and how to prioritize behaving Prosocially or “giving back”. One reason that both companies and individuals behave prosocially is to be viewed positively by others, or in other words, to gain charitable credit. In my research, I explore this impression management motivation behind prosocial behavior.

In Chapter one, I show that low-warmth actors are often assumed to lack communal (or other-oriented) intentions, even when acting generously. Low-warmth donors must therefore send stronger signals of their communal intent when donating to receive the same amount of charitable credit as high-warmth donors. Because goods are linked with communal norms, we find that donating goods allows low-warmth donors to signal communal intent and increase charitable credit received. Study 1 establishes that low-warmth donors receive less credit for unspecified donations than their high-warmth counterparts. Studies 2A and 2B show that goods donations, compared to equally valued monetary or unspecified donations, increase charitable credit for low-warmth donors. Studies 3A and 3B show that donating goods boosts charitable credit for low-warmth donors in particular; high-warmth donors are assumed to have communal intentions, and receive large amounts of credit, regardless of donation type. Finally, study 4 shows that low-warmth donors can increase charitable credit for monetary donations by describing the donation in communal terms, specifically, as a gift. This research has clear practical implications, for example, many corporations are viewed as low-warmth, and most corporate donations are monetary. Yet, companies always have the option to donate goods instead.

While Chapter One examined the reputational benefits, or “charitable credit” companies and other low-warmth donors receive for making donations, Chapter Two goes on to study the reputational benefits involved in another common consumer behavior: customer referrals. In Chapter Two, I show that while selfish incentives typically outperform prosocial incentives, in the context of customer referral rewards, prosocial incentives can be more effective. Companies frequently offer “selfish” (i.e., sender-benefiting) referral incentives, offering customers financial incentive for recruiting new customers. However, companies can alternatively offer “prosocial” (i.e., recipient-benefiting) referral incentives. In two field experiments and an incentive-compatible lab experiment, we find that recipient-benefiting referrals, relative to sender-benefiting referrals, result in more new customers. In five subsequent experiments, we explain why this effect occurs. Specifically, we provide evidence of a two-stage process account that invokes two counter-vailing forces: reputational benefits versus action costs. First, at the referral stage, senders expect reputational benefits when making a recipient-benefiting referral: senders expect the people whom they refer to view them more favorably for providing an opportunity to earn a reward. At the same time, the task of referring someone is relatively easy, often amounting to entering an email address. As a result, recipient-benefiting referral programs are just as effective as sender-benefiting programs at inducing referrals. Then, at the uptake stage, recipient-benefiting referrals are more effective than sender-benefiting referrals. This is because recipient-benefiting referrals directly incent what is typically the more effortful action in referral programs: uptake (i.e., signing up for a new product or service), as opposed to referral, thereby providing impetus for recipients to act. The relative prevalence of sender-benefiting referral offers in the marketplace suggests these forces play out in ways that are unanticipated by marketers who design incentive schemes.


English (en)

Chair and Committee

Cynthia Cryder

Committee Members

Robyn LeBoeuf, Stephen Nowlis, Hannah Perfecto, Rosanna Smith,


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