The Swiss National Science Foundation and the German Research Foundation just decided to fund an approx. 500.000€ research project by Ulf Liebe (Universität Bern) and Andreas Tutic (Universität Leipzig). The study aims at testing hypotheses regarding the interplay of social status and different forms of prosocial behavior, such as altruistic giving as well as direct and generalized reciprocity.
Methodically, the project will embed experimental tasks in "almost"
representative surveys, which will be conducted in Germany, the US, Sweden, and Poland.
Following is a more detailed abstract of the project: Since 2010 the question if and to what extent status groups differ regarding prosocial behavior has received increasing attention in the social sciences. However, past research failed in establishing stylized empirical facts as to whether high-status actors act more or less prosocial than low-status actors.
Hence, this project primarily aims at providing reliable empirical evidence on the relationship between social status and prosociality.
To achieve this, the project combines representative surveys with experimental methods. Three variants of dictator games will be integrated in surveys allowing to directly measure three important forms of prosociality, i.e. altruism, direct reciprocity, and indirect reciprocity, on an incentivized, behavioral level. Since SES and subjective social status will be measured in the surveys, this allows to explore the empirical relationship between social status and prosociality on a large-scale level.
The second goal of the proposed study is to test conflicting theoretical models regarding the explanation of prosociality. Economic approaches regarding social preferences, various sociological theories such as status expectancy theory, exchange theory, and interaction ritual theory as well as diverse social-psychological concepts regarding empathy, social identity, and in-group bias provide a variety of predictions regarding the interplay of social status and prosociality. Measuring the theoretically suggested determinants of prosociality in surveys and comparing the predictions to the behavioral measure of prosociality obtained via the integrated experiments allows putting these theories to a comparative empirical test.
Third, the project will explore if and to what extent the observed relationship between social status and prosociality depends on cultural differences. The mixed evidence from previous studies might to a considerable degree be explained by the fact that data stems from different populations carrying divergent cultural traits. Since both attitudes towards social hierarchy, status, and power as well as patterns of prosocial behavior vary drastically among cultural environments, it is highly likely the cultural traits also affect the relationship between social status and prosociality. To empirically examine the role of culture on the status-prosociality nexus, the proposed research project will conduct surveys with integrated experiments in four countries, i.e., Germany, Sweden, Poland, and the US. These four countries were selected on the basis of Hofstede's work on cultural dimensions. More specifically, Sweden, Poland, and the US are very similar on two of the three most relevant Hofstede dimensions of culture, i.e., power distance, individualism, and masculinity, and differ drastically with respect to the third. Hence, this selection of countries allows separating the effects of these three cultural dimensions.