ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2019, Vol. 51 ›› Issue (4): 415-427.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2019.00415

• Special Column: Behavioral decision-making is nudging China toward the overall revitalization • Previous Articles     Next Articles

The backfire effect of default amounts on donation behavior in online donation platform

FAN Yafeng1,JIANG Jing2(),CUI Wenquan3   

  1. 1 School of Business and management, Tsinghua University, Beijing 100084, China
    2 School of Business, Renmin University, Beijing 100872, China
    3 China Mobile Internet Co., Ltd., Guangzhou 510640, China
  • Received:2017-07-16 Published:2019-04-25 Online:2019-02-22
  • Contact: Jing JIANG


Increasingly, people are turning to the online donation platform as their preferred means of giving. Thus, determining how donors’ donation intention on the web can be improved has been increasingly emphasized. However, few studies have explored how the option settings of online donation platform affect individuals’ donation behavior. Based on the literature of default effect and marketplace metacognition, we proposed that default amounts (high vs. low) have negative effect on donation intention in an online call-for-donation message. High default amounts (vs. low default amounts) led to lower donation intention, because it triggered individuals’ perceived inference of manipulation. This study also examined the moderating role of individuals’ moral identity in the aforementioned effect.

Four studies were conducted to test the hypotheses. Study 1 was designed to test the main effect of default amounts on donation behavior. Participants were assigned randomly to two conditions (high vs. low amount) in the lab setting. They first read a call-for-donation message that introduced a fictitious donation request (to build libraries) from a fictitious online charitable organization. Four amount options were then presented with ¥12 as default in the high amount condition and ¥5 in the low amount condition. Finally, their donation intentions and actual donation behavior were measured. Study 2 validated the results of Study 1 by conducting a field study among part-time MBA students. In Study 3, we employed a three-group (default option: high-amount vs. low-amount vs. no default) between-subjects design to examine the mediating role of perceived inference of manipulation, while ruling out the potential explanations of reactance and emotions. Study 3 was conducted online using a different donation message. Study 4 examined further the moderating role of individual’s moral identity using a two (default option: high-amount vs. low-amount) × two (moral identity: high vs. low) between-subjects design. Moral identity was manipulated by instructing participants to copy nine moral-related words (vs. ordinary words) twice and write a related story.

In line with our predictions, high default amounts (vs. low default amounts) led to lower donation intention and lower donation amounts, driven by perceived inference of manipulation. This effect was robust by using both student and non-student samples, different call-for-donation messages, and different default amounts. Our results also revealed the significant moderating role of moral identity. The default amount effect was only significant when individuals were primed with low moral identity (vs. high moral identity).

Our findings contribute to literature in several different areas. First, by examining how default amount influences individual’s donation behavior, this research extends the default effect in the donation decision area. Second, our findings shed light on the default effect by exploring the backfire effect and its underlying mechanism of default options. Third, the current research contributes to donation decision literature by proposing that options settings (i.e., default amount) is a meaningful influencing factor that may elicit a negative effect on donation. Finally, we also extend the application of moral consistent theories in default effect research.

Key words: default amounts, perceived inference of manipulation, donation intention, moral identity, (backfire) default effect

CLC Number: