The impact of smiling cues on social cooperation

Michalis Drouvelis, Brit Grosskopf

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While there is a plethora of experimental studies on the effects of preplay communication on economic behavior, little is known about the impact of simple cues, such as smiling, on pro‐sociality. This article presents a comprehensive analysis exploring how the presence of a smiling opportunity affects pro‐social behavior as measured by a one‐shot linear public goods game. Our design varies (i) whether smiling is costly or costless and (ii) whether one or both members in a group are given the opportunity to smile. To test for the robustness of our results, we consider two versions of smiling cues: (i) a smiling label and (ii) a smiling face (emoji). Our findings indicate that introducing a cost for smiling has detrimental behavioral consequences regardless of the cue. Specifically, when smiling is costly, only a small minority of subjects are willing to smile as opposed to when smiling is costless. As a result, subjects contribute significantly less. These results remain the same regardless of the type of smiling cue that subjects can send. Overall, our findings provide new evidence that simple cues such as smiles embody information that influences pro‐social behavior in social interactions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1390-1404
JournalSouthern Economic Journal
Issue number4
Early online date28 Jan 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 28 Jan 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors thank participants at the 2016 North‐American ESA Meetings in Dallas, the 2017 Behavioural Public Economics workshop in Vienna and the University of Cologne. Michalis Drouvelis thanks C‐SEB at the University of Cologne for the hospitality he enjoyed while working on this article. Financial support from the University of Birmingham and the University of Exeter's Behaviour, Identity, Decisions (BID) research cluster is gratefully acknowledged.


  • contributions
  • public goods experiments
  • smiling

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Economics and Econometrics


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