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Symposium 2015

Virtual Library File - World Development Report 2015: Mind, Society, and Behavior Part 1, Chapter 2: Thinking Socially

The Challenge

How can the communities of people around the globe be induced to become more caring, not just within the social groups from which they derive their identities, but also across these groups? As the w ...

How can the communities of people around the globe be induced to become more caring, not just within the social groups from which they derive their identities, but also across these groups? As the world's problems - from climate change to financial crises - become more global in reach, how can people's domain of altruism be extended accordingly? What concrete steps can be taken across countries and cultures to strengthen the bonds of cooperation and weaken the forces of conflict?

Although parts of standard economic theory see the human actor as behaving individualistically and solely motivated by self-interest, human actors are rather social creatures and in reality influenced by norms of social groups. These social norms shape the behavior of humans who live within the group that supports this social norm. Various agents, like development practitioners, that fail to take these social influences into account are likely to design and implement inappropriate policies. Recognizing that human behavior is driven by social norms means that extrinsic monetary incentives alone are not always optimal in order to elicit motivated behavior. Social incentives that build on social recognition by a group can be even more effective. The text also recognizes that monetary incentives can even have adverse effects in the sense that they can “crowd out” intrinsic motivation. The document further discusses that cognitive interventions that change identities and self-perceptions can be powerful sources of positive social change. Also, the article presents evidence that individuals are willing to cooperate in the pursuit of shared goals which means that institutions and interventions can be designed to let social preferences come into effect.