What Policies Increase Prosocial Behavior? An Experiment with Referees at the Journal of Public Economics

Raj Chetty, Emmanuel Saez, László Sándor

NBER Working Paper No. 20290
Issued in July 2014
NBER Program(s):   LS   PE

We evaluate policies to increase prosocial behavior using a field experiment with 1,500 referees at the Journal of Public Economics. We randomly assign referees to four groups: a control group with a six week deadline to submit a referee report, a group with a four week deadline, a cash incentive group rewarded with $100 for meeting the four week deadline, and a social incentive group in which referees were told that their turnaround times would be publicly posted. We obtain four sets of results. First, shorter deadlines reduce the time referees take to submit reports substantially. Second, cash incentives significantly improve speed, especially in the week before the deadline. Cash payments do not crowd out intrinsic motivation: after the cash treatment ends, referees who received cash incentives are no slower than those in the four-week deadline group. Third, social incentives have smaller but significant effects on review times and are especially effective among tenured professors, who are less sensitive to deadlines and cash incentives. Fourth, all the treatments have little or no effect on agreement rates, quality of reports, or review times at other journals. We conclude that small changes in journals' policies could substantially expedite peer review at little cost. More generally, price incentives, nudges, and social pressure are effective and complementary methods of increasing prosocial behavior.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w20290

Published: Raj Chetty & Emmanuel Saez & Laszlo Sandor, 2014. "What Policies Increase Prosocial Behavior? An Experiment with Referees at the Journal of Public Economics," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, American Economic Association, vol. 28(3), pages 169-88, Summer. citation courtesy of

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