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How to ask for a favor?

Posted May 17, 2014

Random Acts of Pizza is an online crowdfunding community. It´s members can donate pizza for those who appeal for it. Thus, this website gives information on altruistic behavior. Researchers from Stanford University and Max Planck Institute SWS analyzed large dataset of pizza requests in order to find out what factors determine success of requests.

Picture: Pizza Place in the town of Leakey, Texas, Near San Antonio. Author: Marc St. Gal. Year: 1973⁄05. Image source: The National Archives.

Picture: Pizza Place in the town of Leakey, Texas, Near San Antonio. Author: Marc St. Gal. Year: 1973⁄05. Image source: The National Archives.

Tim Althoff, Cristian Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil and Dan Jurafsky chose this particular website due to several reasons. “All requests ask for the same thing, a pizza, there are no additional incentives or rewards, each request is satisfied by a single user, users and requests are embedded in a social network within Reddit, and requests are largely textual,“ the scientists explain.

Previous studies demonstrated that gratefulness increases probability of prosocial behavior. This study discovered that gratitude can work even in advance and increases chances of receiving pizza. However, content analysis surprisingly failed to show that politeness as such induces altruistic behavior in others. “Studies in social psychology have found that people of high status, e.g. defined by occupation or wealth, receive help more often,“ the scientists say. This is true of analyzed online community as well.In addition, Althoof and his colleagues confirmed that these stories which indicate need are more fruitful than simple cravings. Here is an example of such request:

My gf and I have hit some hard times with her losing her job and then unemployment as well for being physically unable to perform her job due to various hand injuries as a server in a restuarant. She is currently petitioning to have unemployment reinstated due to medical reasons for being unable to perform her job, but until then things are really tight and ANYTHING would help us out right now. I’ve been both a giver and receiver in RAOP before and would certainly return the favor again when I am able to reciprocate. It took everything we have to pay rent today and some food would go a long ways towards making our next couple of days go by much better with some food.

However, some of their results are inconsistent with previous research. For instance, preceding studies documented importance of homophily. This means that people tend to be altruistic towards those who are similar. However, present research is not able to support this thesis. “We conclude that we do not find any evidence that user similarity, at least in terms of their interest and activity as measured here, has a significant effect on giving,“ the scientists say. They also expected that positive sentiments will increase the probability of receiving charity. Nonetheless, this conjecture was falsified as well.

Article link: arXiv:1405.3282

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