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Sunday, August 15, 2021

Prosocial Behavior and Reputation: When Does Doing Good Lead to Looking Good?

Berman, J. Z., & Silver, I.
(2021). Current Opinion in Psychology
Available online 9 July 2021


One reason people engage in prosocial behavior is to reap the reputational benefits associated with being seen as generous. Yet, there isn’t a direct connection between doing good deeds and being seen as a good person. Rather, prosocial actors are often met with suspicion, and sometimes castigated as disingenuous braggarts, empty virtue-signalers, or holier-than-thou hypocrites. In this article, we review recent research on how people evaluate those who engage in prosocial behavior and identify key factors that influence whether observers will praise or denigrate a prosocial actor for doing a good deed.


Obligations to Personal Relations

One complicating factor that affects how actors are judged concerns whether they are donating to a cause that benefits a close personal relation. Recent theories of morality suggest that people see others as obligated to help close personal relations over distant strangers.  Despite these obligations, or perhaps because of them, prosocial actors are afforded less credit when they donate to causes that benefit close others: doing so is seen as relatively selfish compared to helping strangers. At the same time, helping a stranger instead of helping a close other is seen as a violation of one’s commitments and obligations, which can also damage one’s reputation. Understanding the role of relationship-specific obligations in judgments of selfless behavior is still nascent and represents an emerging area of research.