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The past decade has seen an unprecedented increase in interest in purpose and social impact in the world of work. However, such reorientation has not been accompanied by a parallel shift in policy, in large part because most traditional models of work are built upon a classical economic assumption – that human beings are solely guided by self-interest. A misrepresentation of the forces guiding human behaviour has troubling implications. It may cause a ‘morality trap’ where assumptions of self-interest lead to incentives rewarding self-interest which, through multiple mechanisms, can heighten selfishness.

The Altruistic Capital Lab investigates how incentives, policy and corporate culture in organisations can be designed to cultivate pro-social behaviour. Rather than assuming that people are inherently altruistic or selfish, the theory of Altruistic Capital (Ashraf and Bandiera, 2017) models altruism as an asset which builds through action and social learning. The lab puts scientific theory to the test, through evidence-based action. Guided by the principle of Co-Generation of Knowledge, we design and implement large-scale, long-term field experiments to study the formation, dynamics, and economic impact of pro-social behaviour on an unprecedented scale, with tens of thousands of employees in dozens of countries around the world.  

How selfish soever a man may be supposed, there are some principles in his nature, which interest him in the fortune of others, and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except for the pleasure of seeing it… the greatest ruffian, the most hardened violator of society, is not without it.

Adam Smith, “The Theory of Moral Sentiments” (1759)

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