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Intermediated Social Preferences: Altruism in an Algorithmic Era

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Abstract: What are the consequences of intermediating moral responsibility through complex organizations or transactions? This paper examines individual decision-making when choices are known to be obfuscated under randomization. It reports the results of a data entry experiment in an online labor market. Individuals enter data, grade another individual’s work, and decide to split a bonus. However, before they report their decision, they are randomized into settings with different degrees of intermediation. The key finding is that less generosity results when graders are told the split might be implemented by a new procurement algorithm. Those whose decisions are averaged or randomly selected among a set of graders are more generous relative to the a social treatment. These findings relate to “the great transformation” whereby moral mentalities are shaped by modes of (a)social interaction.

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