In naturally occurring environments, altruism is a widespread phenomenon. People often decide to sacrifice time, give away money and make other valuable gifts (e.g. blood and organ donations) to others. Data on charitable giving indicate that, in the U.S., roughly 90 percent of individuals donate money every year, also due to numerous capital campaigns, with fundraising techniques such as phoneathons, door-to-door drives, and mail solicitations being more and more popular. Why do so many people in different countries and social domains donate? What factors drive their decision to give to others? Do givers derive utility from giving? This entry aims to provide an answer to these questions by referring to some key contributions developed in the last years within the huge and growing economics literature offering empirical evidence on altruistic behavior. Since shortcomings exist in both lab-generated data and data from natural settings (Levitt and List, 2007), I will selectively report results from a variety of complementary approaches, namely economic and neuroeconomic laboratory experiments, field experiments and more classic empirical methods. In particular, even though I am aware that altruistic behavior has a context-dependent nature and is often contingent on several environmental factors, I will restrict my attention to what I refer to as its major internal determinants, focusing on the motivational dimension underlying individuals’ decisions to act altruistically.
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