Is it even worth it? The effect of loss prospects in the outcome distribution of a public goods dilemma

Matthew W. McCarter, Kevin W. Rockmann, Gregory B. Northcraft

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Contributions to public goods are premised on the expectation that the collective will realize benefit in excess of the value of required contributions. However, past research has focused on public goods of fixed and known value, for which the added value of the produced public good is obvious. Research has largely ignored public goods whose eventual value is uncertain at the time contribution decisions are made. Two studies explored the effects of outcome variance on individuals' contributions to a public good and their reasons for contributing. Contributions were negatively affected by loss prospects in the distribution of possible outcomes. Further, loss prospects directly discouraged contributions because of loss aversion, and indirectly discouraged contributions by fueling fears that others would not contribute. The negative effects of loss prospects were stronger when social uncertainty was low. Implications for social dilemma research and the effective management of collective action are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalOrganizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2010


  • Environmental uncertainty
  • Outcome variance
  • Public goods production
  • Social dilemmas
  • Social uncertainty

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management


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