Not Making a Donation Can Make You Feel Vulnerable

Dominating the entire planet tends to make humans a little too confident in their intelligence, so it’s nice when something comes along that shows how stupid we can be. The latest is a new study on charitable donations. Although people act rationally by preferring to donate to a misfortune they believe they are more likely to suffer from, passing on an opportunity to make a donation leads people to irrationally believe they are “tempting fate” and thus more likely to suffer from the misfortune they chose not to help.

Results of five studies, examining a real life situation, hypothetical scenarios and a controlled lab game with actual monetary costs and rewards, show first, that deliberately helping is positively correlated with the perceived likelihood of becoming a victim of the same misfortune. Second, we show that refusing to donate to a threatening misfortune increases sense of vulnerability. Both phenomena occur especially for people with strong belief in a just world, who believe in a causal relationship between people’s behavior and their fortune (rewards and punishments).

The findings may also shed some light on the underlying psychological processes behind the policy preferences of conservatives. If you come from the Eric Cantor school of inequality that says all you ever need to succeed is hard work (even if you’re born to a single mother in the inner city and have no way of paying for college or attending a non-failing high school in an area without a gang-problem), you probably feel as though it’s impossible you’ll ever need the government safety net (even if you already use it.) After all, if you fall into poverty you can just work harder. The result of not fearing you’ll need the safety net is that you’re less likely to make a “donation” to it by voting for progressive politicians, and the act of not making that “donation” is less likely to make you feel vulnerable about future poverty.
Kogut, T., & Ritov, I. (2011). ‘Protective donation’ When refusing a request for a donation increases the sense of vulnerability Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 47 (6), 1059-1069 DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2011.04.006

2 Responses to Not Making a Donation Can Make You Feel Vulnerable

  1. SomeName says:

    I thought of liberal vs conservative as well, but not in the same way. Conservatives have been shown to actually donate more often to charity. Liberals, despite favoring progressive policies, actually donate less. This is result consistent with the stereotype of cynical liberals believing in an unjust world, and hence donating less (and this research being less relevant to them). It’s also consistent with religious conservatives believing in a fundamentally just world, i.e. that people will get their just deserts in the end.

    I think your conclusions are less supported by this research, since your analysis relies on using voting as a proxy for donation, instead of simply the directly relevant data on actual donations.

  2. It’s interesting to see the element of superstition in what causes people will choose to donate to. So much for human beings being arrogant about their confidence in their own intelligence.

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