Counting on you

Kevin Lewis

July 08, 2018

Impediments to Effective Altruism: The Role of Subjective Preferences in Charitable Giving
Jonathan Berman et al.
Psychological Science, May 2018, Pages 834-844


Charity could do the most good if every dollar donated went to causes that produced the greatest welfare gains. In line with this proposition, the effective-altruism movement seeks to provide individuals with information regarding the effectiveness of charities in hopes that they will contribute to organizations that maximize the social return of their donation. In this research, we investigated the extent to which presenting effectiveness information leads people to choose more effective charities. We found that even when effectiveness information is made easily comparable across options, it has a limited impact on choice. Specifically, people frequently choose less effective charity options when those options represent more subjectively preferred causes. In contrast to making a personal donation decision, outcome metrics are used to a much greater extent when choosing financial investments and when allocating aid resources as an agent of an organization. Implications for effective altruism are discussed.

Undervaluing Gratitude: Expressers Misunderstand the Consequences of Showing Appreciation
Amit Kumar & Nicholas Epley
Psychological Science, forthcoming 


Expressing gratitude improves well-being for both expressers and recipients, but we suggest that an egocentric bias may lead expressers to systematically undervalue its positive impact on recipients in a way that could keep people from expressing gratitude more often in everyday life. Participants in three experiments wrote gratitude letters and then predicted how surprised, happy, and awkward recipients would feel. Recipients then reported how receiving an expression of gratitude actually made them feel. Expressers significantly underestimated how surprised recipients would be about why expressers were grateful, overestimated how awkward recipients would feel, and underestimated how positive recipients would feel. Expected awkwardness and mood were both correlated with participants' willingness to express gratitude. Wise decisions are guided by an accurate assessment of the expected value of action. Underestimating the value of prosocial actions, such as expressing gratitude, may keep people from engaging in behavior that would maximize their own - and others' - well-being.

The Smile-Seeking Hypothesis: How Immediate Affective Reactions Motivate and Reward Gift Giving
Adelle Yang & Oleg Urminsky
Psychological Science, forthcoming


People making decisions for others often do not choose what their recipients most want. Prior research has generally explained such preference mismatches as decision makers mispredicting recipients' satisfaction. We proposed that a "smile-seeking" motive is a distinct cause for these mismatches in the context of gift giving. After examining common gift options for which gift givers expect a difference between the recipients' affective reaction (e.g., a smile when receiving the gift) and overall satisfaction, we found that givers often chose to forgo satisfaction-maximizing gifts and instead favor reaction-maximizing gifts. This reaction-maximizing preference was mitigated when givers anticipated not giving the gift in person. Results from six studies suggest that anticipated affective reactions powerfully shape gift givers' choices and giving experiences, independently of (and even in spite of) anticipated recipient satisfaction. These findings reveal a dominant yet overlooked role that the display of affective reactions plays in motivating and rewarding gift-giving behaviors and shed new light on interpersonal decision making.

More About When I's Meet: The Intergroup Ramifications of I-Sharing, Part II
Elizabeth Pinel et al.
Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, forthcoming


Previous research on I-sharing (the belief that one has shared the same, in-the-moment subjective experience with another person) revealed its promise for improving intergroup relations. We expand on this research by (a) pursuing the mechanism underlying I-sharing's effects; (b) asking whether I-sharing promotes positive, behavioral intergroup outcomes; and (c) asking whether the effects of I-sharing generalize to the outgroup at large. Study 1 rules out the possibility that I-sharing promotes liking for an outgroup member via a process of subtyping. Study 2 shows that I-sharing promotes liking for an outgroup member because it promotes a general feeling of subjective connection to the I-sharer. Study 3 provides evidence that I-sharing promotes helping across intergroup lines, and Study 4 shows that I-sharing with one outgroup member reduces infrahumanization of the outgroup more generally. These four studies contribute to our growing understanding of the unique impact that I-sharing has on intergroup outcomes.

Why Do People Volunteer? An Experimental Analysis of Preferences for Time Donations
Alexander Brown, Jonathan Meer & Forrest Williams
Management Science, forthcoming


Why do individuals volunteer their time even when recipients receive far less value than the donor's opportunity cost? Previous models of altruism that focus on the overall impact of a gift cannot rationalize this behavior, despite its prevalence. We develop a model that allows for differential warm glow depending on the form of the donation. In a series of laboratory experiments that control for other aspects of volunteering, such as its signaling value, subjects demonstrate behavior consistent with the theoretical assumption that gifts of time produce greater utility than the same transfers in the form of money. Subjects perform an effort task, accruing earnings at potentially different wage rates for themselves or a charity of their choice, with the ability to transfer any of their personal earnings to charity at the end of the experiment. Subjects exhibit strong preferences for donating time even when differential wage rates make it costly to do so. The results provide new insights on the nature of volunteering and gift giving.

The fusing power of natural disasters: An experimental study
Keren Segal, Jonathan Jong & Jamin Halberstadt
Self and Identity, forthcoming


In the first experimental test of the potential of natural disasters to produce identity fusion, we asked residents of Christchurch, New Zealand, to recall their experience of the city's devastating 2011 earthquake. Compared to a control condition, recall increased participants' fusion with their community as a function of the fear they felt and, independently, of the personal harm they suffered; fusion, in turn, mediated their intentions to donate time and money to the community. An exploratory analysis also revealed stronger fusion effects among participants who attributed the event to supernatural agency. The results show that fusion is not dependent on evidence of intergroup conflict, but also raise new questions about the importance of agentic attributions and search for meaning in the fusion process.

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