Costs, Needs, and Integration Efforts Shape Helping Behavior Toward Refugees

Robert Böhm*, Maik M.P. Theelen, Hannes Rusch, Paul A.M. van Lange

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

34 Citations (Web of Science)


Recent political instabilities and conflicts around the world have drastically increased the number of people seeking refuge. The challenges associated with the large number of arriving refugees have revealed a deep divide among the citizens of host countries: one group welcomes refugees, whereas another rejects them. Our research aim is to identify factors that help us understand host citizens' (un) willingness to help refugees. We devise an economic game that captures the basic structural properties of the refugee situation. We use it to investigate both economic and psychological determinants of citizens' prosocial behavior toward refugees. In three controlled laboratory studies, we find that helping refugees becomes less likely when it is individually costly to the citizens. At the same time, helping becomes more likely with the refugees' neediness: helping increases when it prevents a loss rather than generates a gain for the refugees. Moreover, particularly citizens with higher degrees of prosocial orientation are willing to provide help at a personal cost. When refugees have to exert a minimum level of effort to be eligible for support by the citizens, these mandatory "integration efforts" further increase prosocial citizens' willingness to help. Our results underscore that economic factors play a key role in shaping individual refugee helping behavior but also show that psychological factors modulate how individuals respond to them. Moreover, our economic game is a useful complement to correlational survey measures and can be used for pretesting policy measures aimed at promoting prosocial behavior toward refugees.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)7284-7289
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number28
Publication statusPublished - 2018
Externally publishedYes

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