Belief in Hard Work and Altruism: Evidence from a Randomized Field Experiment

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Event Type: 
Brown Bag
Date and Time: 
Thursday, October 25, 2018
12:00 pm – 1:00 pm
Sule Alan
University of Essex

We show that optimistic beliefs regarding the role of effort in success, while leading to success

and wealth, diminish the individual’s sympathy toward the unsuccessful. We generate random

variation in the degree of optimism about the productivity of effort via an effective educational

intervention. We find that treated children, holding significantly more optimistic beliefs, are no

less likely than control to give to unlucky recipients, but significantly less likely to give to those

who failed at a real effort task despite an opportunity to build skill. We show that the estimated

treatment effect on the response to the donation context is mediated through the shift in children’s

beliefs toward more optimism, rather than through the effect on success and wealth. The results

highlight possible unintended social effects of effort-focused optimism and have implications for

the political economy.