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The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy

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Volume 15, Issue 4 (Oct 2015)

Heterogeneous Effects of Informational Nudges on Pro-social Behavior

Jiayi Bao
  • Department of Business Economics & Public Policy, The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania
  • Email:
/ Benjamin Ho
  • Corresponding author
  • Department of Economics, Vassar College, 124 Raymond Ave, Poughkeepsie, New York 12604, USA
  • Email:
Published Online: 2015-04-28 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/bejeap-2014-0125


Numerous experimental studies of informational nudges both in the lab and the field have demonstrated not just that informational nudges are effective policy tools for influencing behavior, but also that nudges have heterogeneous impacts that differ depending on the characteristics of the person involved and the situation. We adapt Andreoni’s theory of warm-glow impure altruism to account for how altruism motives respond differently depending on the disposition of the person and the situation. The model explains both positive spillovers (moral cleansing) and negative spillovers (moral licensing) for behavioral interventions, showing that targeting of informational campaigns depends on the complementarity between people’s traits and the intervention’s content. More importantly, the design of economic incentives (like Pigouvian taxes) to shift economic behavior should depend on both the distribution of social preferences in the population and the use of behavioral interventions.

Keywords: nudge; heterogeneity; moral licensing; moral cleansing; impure altruism; warm glow


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About the article

Published Online: 2015-04-28

Published in Print: 2015-10-01

Citation Information: The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy, ISSN (Online) 1935-1682, ISSN (Print) 2194-6108, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/bejeap-2014-0125. Export Citation

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