"Feeling Good About Giving: the Benefits (And Costs) of Self-interested Charitable Behavior - Harvard Business School"

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT

Download "Feeling Good About Giving: the Benefits (And Costs) of Self-interested Charitable Behavior - Harvard Business School"

336 times
Rate (4.6 / 5) 20 votes
Feeling Good about Giving:
The Benefits (and Costs) of
Self-Interested Charitable
Behavior
Lalin Anik
Lara B. Aknin
Michael I. Norton
Elizabeth W. Dunn
Working Paper
10-012
Copyright © 2009 by Lalin Anik, Lara B. Aknin, Michael I. Norton, and Elizabeth W. Dunn
Working papers are in draft form. This working paper is distributed for purposes of comment and
discussion only. It may not be reproduced without permission of the copyright holder. Copies of working
papers are available from the author.
Feeling Good about Giving:
The Benefits (and Costs) of
Self-Interested Charitable
Behavior
Lalin Anik
Lara B. Aknin
Michael I. Norton
Elizabeth W. Dunn
Working Paper
10-012
Copyright © 2009 by Lalin Anik, Lara B. Aknin, Michael I. Norton, and Elizabeth W. Dunn
Working papers are in draft form. This working paper is distributed for purposes of comment and
discussion only. It may not be reproduced without permission of the copyright holder. Copies of working
papers are available from the author.
Feeling Good about Giving 1
 
Feeling Good about Giving:
The Benefits (and Costs) of Self-Interested Charitable Behavior
Lalin Anik, Harvard Business School
Lara B. Aknin, University of British Columbia
Michael I. Norton, Harvard Business School
Elizabeth W. Dunn, University of British Columbia
Feeling Good about Giving 2
 
Abstract
While lay intuitions and pop psychology suggest that helping others leads to higher levels of
happiness, the existing evidence only weakly supports this causal claim: Research in psychology,
economics, and neuroscience exploring the benefits of charitable giving has been largely
correlational, leaving open the question of whether giving causes greater happiness. In this
chapter, we have two primary aims. First, we review the evidence linking charitable behavior
and happiness. We present research from a variety of samples (adults, children and primates)
and methods (correlational and experimental) demonstrating that happier people give more, that
giving indeed causes increased happiness, and that these two relationships may operate in a
circular fashion. Second, we consider whether advertising these benefits of charitable giving –
asking people to give in order to be happy – may have the perverse consequence of decreasing
charitable giving, crowding out intrinsic motivations to give by corrupting a purely social act
with economic considerations.
Feeling Good about Giving 3
 
People see a world out of whack. They see the greatest health crisis of 600 years and they want
to do the right thing, but they’re not sure what that is. (RED) is about doing what you enjoy and
doing good at the same time.
—Bono, “Ethical Shopping: The Red Revolution,” Belfast Telegraph, January 27, 2006.
Helping others takes countless forms, from giving money to charity to helping a stranger
dig his car out of the snow, and springs from countless motivations, from deep-rooted empathy
to a more calculated desire for public recognition. Indeed, social scientists have identified a host
of ways in which charitable behavior can lead to benefits for the giver, whether economically via
tax breaks (Clotfelter, 1985, 1997; Reece & Zieschang 1985), socially via signaling one’s wealth
or status (Becker 1974; Glazer & Konrad 1996; Griskevicius et al., 2007) or psychologically via
experiencing well-being from helping (Andreoni, 1989, 1990; Dunn, Aknin, & Norton, 2008).
Charitable organizations have traditionally capitalized on all of these motivations for giving,
from attempting to engage consumers with emotion-laden advertising to pushing governments to
offer tax incentives. The psychological benefits of giving are underscored by Bono’s quote
above, referring to the Product (RED) campaign, in which a portion of profits from consumer
purchases of luxury goods is donated to the Global Fund for AIDS relief: Giving feels good, so
why not advertise the benefits of “self-interested giving,” allowing people to experience that
good feeling while increasing contributions to charity at the same time?
In this chapter, we have two primary aims. First, we explore whether claims about the
benefits of helping are in fact justified: While many appeals for charity center on the notion that
helping makes the giver happy, a relatively small amount of research exists to support this causal
claim. We review evidence that happy people give more, that giving is associated with and
Feeling Good about Giving 4
 
causes happiness, and that these relationships may run in a circular fashion, such that happy
people give more, then feel happier, then give more, and so on. Second, however, we consider
the possible negative implications of advertising these well-being benefits in an effort to increase
charitable behavior: When people start to give for “selfish” reasons – in order to feel good –
instead of altruistic reasons – to help others – such extrinsic motivations may crowd out intrinsic
motivation to help; as a result, helping behavior might increase in the short term as people seek
benefits, but decrease in the long-term as people’s inherent interest in the welfare of others
declines.
Happier People Give More
One of the first experimental studies to demonstrate that happiness increases charitable
behavior was conducted by Isen and Levin (1972), who showed that after experiencing positive
events (such as receiving cookies, or finding a dime left in a payphone), participants were more
likely to help others: Thus, people who felt good were more likely to provide help. Replicating
this effect in a different context, Aderman (1972) induced either an elated or depressed state by
having participants read statements designed to induce these moods. Participants in a positive
mood were more likely to help with a favor to the researcher during the experiment, and even
promised to help by participating in a second experiment. Other positive mood states have also
been shown to increase altruism; feelings of competence, for example, have been shown to
increase helping and volunteering behavior (Harris & Huang 1973; Kazdin & Bryan 1971), as
has succeeding on tasks (Isen, 1970).
Young children exhibit similar effects of mood on helping. Rosenhan, Underwood, and
Moore (1974) randomly assigned second and third graders to positive or negative mood
conditions by having them reminisce about mood appropriate memories. To strengthen the mood