Underlying psychological mechanisms of helping effects : Examining the when × why of charitable giving

Sammanfattning: The overarching purpose of this thesis was to investigate if different helping effects can be specifically linked to different psychological mechanisms. Helping effects (i.e. the when of helping) refer to situational differences that can increase or decrease the probability of helping. The three helping effects in focus in this thesis, were (1) the identifiable victim effect (the tendency to be more likely to help when learning about a single identified victim than when learning about statistical victims); (2) the proportion dominance effect (the tendency to be more likely to help when hearing e.g. about a project that can save 94 of 100 victims than when hearing about a project that can save 94 of 8000 victims); (3) the in-group effect (the tendency to be more motivated to help victims that are from the helper’s in-group than victims that are from the out-group). Psychological mechanisms (i.e. the why of helping) refer to the emotions, thoughts and beliefs of a potential helper that can increase helping motivation. This thesis included three distinguishable psychological mechanisms that each was assumed to be able to increase motivation to help independently of the others: (1) emotional reactions (feeling more personal distress and sympathy toward the victims can increase helping); (2) perceived utility (believing that one can make a great deal of good for a relatively small personal cost can increase helping); (3) perceived responsibility (believing that one has a moral obligation, duty or personal responsibility can increase helping). The three articles included in the thesis investigated the interaction between helping effects and psychological mechanisms in different ways. Article 1 focused exclusively on the proportion dominance effect and in two studies it was shown that perceived utility (but not sympathy, distress, perceived rights of the victims or perceived personal responsibilities) mediated the effect. Article 2 tested all three psychological mechanisms as possible mediators on all three helping effects. Both when using a within-subject design with joint evaluation and when using a between-groups design it was found that emotional reactions primarily mediated the identifiable victim effect; that perceived utility primarily mediated the proportion dominance effect; and that perceived responsibility was the comparably stronger mediator of the in-group effect. Article 3 tested the relation between helping effects and psychological mechanisms in a different way. Participants read about two help projects and had to allocate their money unevenly between the projects. They were then asked to justify why they allocated as they did. Participants who gave more money to a project with an identified victim than to a project with only statistical information justified their choice more with emotional reasons than those giving more to the statistical project. Participants who gave more money to a high rescue proportion project than to a low rescue proportion project justified their choice more with efficacy reasons (i.e. perceived utility) than those giving more to the low rescue proportion project. Participants who gave more money to a project focusing on in-group victims than to a project focusing on out-group victims justified their choice more with responsibility reasons than those giving more to the project with out-group victims. Taken together, these findings suggest that emotional reactions primarily underlies the identifiable victim effect; that perceived utility primarily underlies the proportion dominance effect and that perceived responsibility primarily underlies the in-group effect. This illustrates the meaning of separating helping effects, the merit of distinguishing psychological mechanisms from each other, and that it is worthwhile to systematically test if different helping effects are driven by different psychological mechanisms.

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