When Doing Some Good Is Evaluated as Worse Than Doing No Good at All
George E. Newman and Daylian M. Cain
Published online before print January 8, 2014
Psychological Science March 2014 vol. 25 no. 3 648-655
In four experiments, we found that the presence of self-interest in the charitable domain was seen as tainting: People evaluated efforts that realized both charitable and personal benefits as worse than analogous behaviors that produced no charitable benefit. This tainted-altruism effect was observed in a variety of contexts and extended to both moral evaluations of other agents and participants’ own behavioral intentions (e.g., reported willingness to hire someone or purchase a company’s products). This effect did not seem to be driven by expectations that profits would be realized at the direct cost of charitable benefits, or the explicit use of charity as a means to an end. Rather, we found that it was related to the accessibility of different counterfactuals: When someone was charitable for self-interested reasons, people considered his or her behavior in the absence of self-interest, ultimately concluding that the person did not behave as altruistically as he or she could have. However, when someone was only selfish, people did not spontaneously consider whether the person could have been more altruistic.
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