The Sacrifice Halo: Do We Esteem Altruists For The Sacrifices They Make Or The Benefits They Deliver?
Nemirow, Jason Andrew
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CitationNemirow, Jason Andrew. 2022. The Sacrifice Halo: Do We Esteem Altruists For The Sacrifices They Make Or The Benefits They Deliver?. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
AbstractSome philanthropic acts are vastly more impactful than others, but the more effective options are rarely the most popular with givers. Why is so much altruism ineffective? We hypothesize that givers are motivated by esteem, which tracks personal sacrifice in addition to benefit, perhaps because it credibly signals dispositional generosity, a criterion in selecting cooperative partners.
Tested in Studies 1-3: Do people esteem benefit, sacrifice, or both? Participants reviewed hypothetical nominees for a humanitarian prize and were asked about which kinds of information they wanted. They reported wanting to know both what the nominees achieved and what they sacrificed. In Study 4, participants judged nominees who differed in their sacrifices (number of hours volunteered) and impact (number of families fed). Consistent with their reports on the information they wanted, their esteem ratings were sensitive to both factors. To confirm that esteem for time spent is specific to acts of altruism, Study 5 contrasted volunteers up for a moral prize (“Recycler of the Month”) against workers up for a non-moral prize (“Employee of the Month”). Participants rewarded additional time spent only for the volunteers, and rewarded impacts achieved more for the workers. Consistent with the idea that people interpret sacrifice as a sign of trait generosity, judgments of warmth selectively mediated the relationship between time spent and esteem among the altruists. Less efficient workers were rated less competent, but less efficient volunteers were not.
Tested in Studies 6–11: Why do ineffective donors enjoy similar levels of praise to effective ones? Participants rated ineffective donors, effective donors, and non-donors for a moral prize. The targets were presented either side-by-side (Study 6) or in isolation (Study 7). Between participants in both studies, donors varied in their level of generosity. We found (1) compared to donating, donating effectively has a relatively minor influence on praise (2) in contrast to donating at all or donating generously, which were seen as praiseworthy in isolation, donating effectively was only seen as praiseworthy in side-by-side comparisons. Study 8 presented only the two donors differing in efficacy. They were both esteemed less than when they were compared alongside a non-donor, but the difference in praise between them was the same.
Study 9 tested whether ineffective donors are esteemed because observers perceive them as having chosen between donating at all and spending on themselves, rather than having chosen between an ineffective gift and a more effective one. When asked what (if any) alternatives the donor considered before donating, three times as many participants mentioned personal spending as donating to other charities. Yet only about a quarter mentioned any alternative at all, suggesting that attributions of implicit alternatives to ineffective donors cannot fully explain why they are esteemed.
To encourage people to think more critically about ineffective gifts, we varied the alternatives a donor explicitly considered prior to giving and found that donors who considered but rejected more effective options garnered less esteem (Study 10). Finally, to determine whether this effect was driven by the knowledge of observers or the knowledge of the donors, Study 11 contrasted conditions that mentioned (1) no alternative, (2) a more effective option that the donor was unaware of; (3) a more effective alternative that the donor was aware of but chose to ignore. Participants judged a donor more poorly when they themselves knew of the more effective alternative, and more poorly still when the actual donor knew of it.
Together, these results underscore the existence of reputation incentives that surround — and presumably motivate— altruists, shed light on why altruists may be insensitive to the efficacy of their gifts, and offer tactical suggestions for the Effective Altruism movement.
Citable link to this pagehttps://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37372133
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