Risk preferences and prosocial behavior - an experiment
To what extent are we willing to reduce our contacts in order to reduce our own risk of infection with Covid-19? And what impact does it have that our risk considerations not only affect ourselves, but can also have far-reaching consequences for the health of others?
HCHE researchers led by Prof. Johanna Kokot and Benedicta Hermanns have investigated these questions by conducting an experiment as part of the European COvid Survey (ECOS). They were able to observe that the participants in the study carefully weighed up the consequences of infection. As a result, they were willing to meet very few people and thus showed a very high level of risk aversion. Participants increased their risk aversion when negative community consequences were at stake. This pattern was observed in all seven European countries surveyed.
The study provides information about motives that play a role in risk considerations in the pandemic. This can be particularly helpful in communicating measures to contain the pandemic.
If you would like to know more, you can find further information below
Risk preferences and prosocial behavior - Experimental evidence during pandemic times
Are we willing to reduce our contacts to reduce the risk of infection with Covid-19? This is a question that has guided us throughout the pandemic. We are incessantly confronted with situations in which we must weigh the risk to our own health. However, our risk decisions not only affect ourselves, but can have far-reaching consequences for the health of others. Accordingly, the consequences of risk trade-offs also have a prosocial component. Meeting other people, for example, not only risks infecting oneself, but also risks being the person who infects others. A resulting increase in the incidence of infection places an additional burden on the health care system.
HCHE researchers have analyzed the interaction between risk preferences and prosocial behavior using a survey experiment as part of the European COvid Survey (ECOS). Participants in the study were asked to weigh the costs and benefits of risky decisions in an abstract decision-making situation. Specifically, they were asked how many people they would want to meet if each meeting involved a personal benefit to them. The more people they would meet, the greater the potential benefit. On the other hand, however, the risk of becoming infected and thus losing the benefit increased with each person they met. In this risk assessment, the participants' own decision initially only had an impact on themselves. In a second decision, participants were asked to make another risk assessment. This time, an encounter involved not only one's own risk of infection, but also the risk of causing costs for the health care system and thus for the community.
The focus of the study was to examine how participants' decisions change when the consequences affect not only themselves but also the community. Do risk considerations differ when they may have consequences for the community? The researchers observed that participants weighed the consequences of infection very carefully. They were only willing to meet very few people, demonstrating a high level of risk aversion. Participants increased their risk aversion when negative community consequences were at stake. This pattern is found in all seven European countries surveyed. The study provides insight into motives that play a role in pandemic risk considerations. This may be particularly helpful in communicating pandemic mitigation measures.
In the survey, the HCHE researchers took into account that people behave differently in real decision-making situations than if their decisions had only theoretical consequences. Therefore, the risk trade-offs in the experiment were not just hypothetical, but had monetary consequences. Benefits and costs were transformed into monetary units and the final amount was paid out to the participants. The cost to the community in the experiment was simulated by the fact that a donation to UNICEF's COVAX initiative of €0.50 per participant was at stake. Based on their decisions, 2,845 participants each enabled a donation. This resulted in a total donation of 1,422.50€ to UNICEF.