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Does giving to charity make it more likely you‘ll be altruistic in future?

by imben1 min read14th Feb 20194 comments

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I have seen both the following arguments:

  1. Giving to charity makes it more likely you will engage in other altruistic behaviours e.g. building altruistic capital, the Halo effect

  2. Giving to charity makes it less likely you will engage in other altruistic behaviours e.g. moral licensing, fundraising cannibalism

Do you have a clear view on which is true?

One obvious answer is that it depends. But is there something consistent it depend on?

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This (2015) review reports that:

individuals are more likely to exhibit consistency when they focus abstractly on the connection between their initial behavior and their values, whereas they are more likely to exhibit licensing when they think concretely about what they have accomplished with their initial behavior—as long as the second behavior does not blatantly threaten a cherished identity

So broadly speaking I would expect the act(s) in question making public (or just making privately salient to you) a particular moral identity (as a person who acts well) would increase moral consistency effects, whereas acts which emphasis the amount of good you have done would increase licensing effects.

Is this the difference between "I'm a person who eats healthy" vs "I did such a good job avoiding cake at the staff party, so I deserve a couple cookies"?

1David_Moss3yThat seems like one example that would fall within this, yes.

Super useful - thanks David. An interesting implication for EA fundraisers might be then to avoid quantifying achievements e.g. “you’ve just saved 10 lives with your donation”. Perhaps you’d want to say something like: “your commitment to helping others is fantastic”.