Adam Waytz, & Wilhelm Hofmann
Emotion, Feb 28 , 2019, No Pagination Specified
A field experiment examines how moral behavior, moral thoughts, and self-benefiting behavior affect daily well-being. Using experience sampling technology, we randomly grouped participants over 10 days to either behave morally, have moral thoughts, or do something positive for themselves. Participants received treatment-specific instructions in the morning of 5 days and no instructions on the other 5 control days. At each day’s end, participants completed measures that examined, among others, subjective well-being, self-perceived morality and empathy, and social isolation and closeness. Full analyses found limited evidence for treatment- versus control-day differences. However, restricting analyses to occasions on which participants complied with instructions revealed treatment- versus control-day main effects on all measures, while showing that self-perceived morality and empathy toward others particularly increased in the moral deeds and moral thoughts group. These findings suggest that moral behavior, moral thoughts, and self-benefiting behavior are all effective means of boosting well-being, but only moral deeds and, perhaps surprisingly, also moral thoughts strengthen the moral self-concept and empathy. Results from an additional study assessing laypeople’s predictions suggest that people do not fully intuit this pattern of results.
Here is part of the Discussion:
Overall, inducing moral thoughts and behaviors toward others enhanced feelings of virtuousness compared to the case for self-serving behavior. This makes sense given that people likely internalized their moral thoughts and behaviors in the two moral conditions, whereas the treat-yourself condition did not direct participants toward morality. Restricting analyses to days when people complied with treatment-specific instructions revealed significant positive effects on satisfaction for all treatments. That is, compared to receiving no instructions to behave morally, think morally, or treat oneself, receiving and complying with such instructions on treatment-specific days increased happiness and satisfaction with one’s life. Although the effect size was highest in the treat-yourself condition, improvements in satisfaction were statistically equivalent across conditions. Overall, the moral deeds condition in this compliant-only analysis revealed the broadest improvements across other measures related to well-being, whereas the treat-yourself condition was the only condition to significantly reduce exhaustion. Examining instances when participants reported behaving morally, thinking morally, or behaving self-servingly, independent of treatment, revealed comparable results for moral deeds and self-treats enhancing well-being generally, with moral thoughts enhancing most measures of well-being as well.
The research is here.