Empathy or justice: What makes consumers donate more to charity?

Jul 22, 2014

Have you ever received a request for help and wondered how deserving the recipients are of your donation? This way of thinking may seem inconsistent with your moral values, especially if you consider yourself an otherwise compassionate and empathic person. A new study in the Journal of Consumer Research suggests that moral identity decreases donations when recipients are deemed to be responsible for their plight.

"Our research examines how moral values of and justice have distinct influences on people when they are asked to make donations benefiting others whose choices have led them to an unfortunate place in life," write authors Saerom Lee (University of Texas at San Antonio), Karen Page Winterich (Pennsylvania State University), and William T. Ross Jr. (University of Connecticut).

Across four studies, the authors asked for donations to various charities benefiting people who donors may believe are responsible for their current situation (for example, a community health center that treats people who cannot hold a steady job due to drug or alcohol use). Results showed that not all perceived making a donation to these particular types of charities as moral. Participants who placed a high importance on their own indicated they were less likely to donate money.

However, when asked to recall their own past immoral behavior, study participants could more easily take the perspective of recipients receiving assistance from the charities and felt higher levels of empathy. As a result, the likelihood of monetary donations from these participants increased.

"Our results can help non-profits be more cautious when describing the causes and beneficiaries they are supporting. Donation appeals should specify or imply low responsibility of the charity recipients or, alternatively, seek to elicit empathy to increase ," the authors conclude. "Rather than appealing to a broader spectrum of moral values, messages should focus on the of empathy and benevolence."

Explore further: Charitable donation discrepancies: Why are some countries more generous than others?

More information: Saerom Lee, Karen Page Winterich, and William T. Ross Jr. "I'm Moral, but I Won't Help You: The Distinct Roles of Empathy and Justice in Donations." Journal of Consumer Research: October 2014.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Men, women give to charity differently, says new research

Dec 18, 2008

To whom would you rather give money: a needy person in your neighborhood or a needy person in a foreign country? According to new research by Texas A&M University marketing professor Karen Winterich and colleagues, if you're ...

Does the promise of recognition really prompt good deeds?

Oct 29, 2013

Recognition might not be as important as previously thought in motivating people to perform good deeds, such as donating money or volunteering time to a philanthropic cause, shows recent research from authors at the Penn ...

'Moral realism' may lead to better moral behavior

Jan 29, 2013

Getting people to think about morality as a matter of objective facts rather than subjective preferences may lead to improved moral behavior, Boston College researchers report in the Journal of Experimental So ...

Recommended for you

Power can corrupt even the honest

20 hours ago

When appointing a new leader, selectors base their choice on several factors and typically look for leaders with desirable characteristics such as honesty and trustworthiness. However once leaders are in power, can we trust ...

Learning at 10 degrees north

21 hours ago

Secluded beaches, calypso music and the entertaining carnival are often what come to mind when thinking of the islands of Trinidad and Tobago. But Dal Earth Sciences students might first consider Trinidad's ...

How to find the knowns and unknowns in any research

22 hours ago

Have you ever felt overloaded by information? Ever wondered how to make sense of claims and counter-claims about a topic? With so much information out there on many different issues, how is a person new to ...

User comments : 0