Impediments to Effective Altruism: The Role of Subjective Preferences in Charitable Giving

Psychological Science, 29(5), 834-844, Forthcoming

28 Pages Posted: 16 Aug 2018

See all articles by Jonathan Berman

Jonathan Berman

London Business School - Department of Marketing

Alixandra Barasch

New York University

Emma Levine

University of Chicago - Booth School of Business

Deborah A. Small

University of Pennsylvania - Marketing Department; Carnegie Mellon University

Date Written: August 1, 2018

Abstract

Charity could do the most good if every dollar donated went to causes that produced the greatest welfare gains. In line with this proposition, the “Effective Altruism” movement seeks to provide individuals with information regarding the effectiveness of charities in hopes that they will donate to organizations that maximize the social return of their donation. This paper investigates the extent to which presenting effectiveness information leads people to choose more effective charities. Across 10 studies (N = 3,115), we find that even when effectiveness information is made easily comparable across options, it has a limited impact on choice. Specifically, people frequently choose less effective charity options when those options represent more subjectively preferred causes. In contrast to making a personal donation decision, outcome metrics are used to a much greater extent when choosing financial investments and when allocating aid resources as an agent of an organization. Implications are discussed.

Keywords: Charitable Decision Making, Effective Altruism, Prosocial Behavior, Decision Subjectivity, Open Data, Preregistered

Suggested Citation

Berman, Jonathan and Barasch, Alixandra and Levine, Emma and Small, Deborah A., Impediments to Effective Altruism: The Role of Subjective Preferences in Charitable Giving (August 1, 2018). Psychological Science, 29(5), 834-844, Forthcoming . Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3224734

Jonathan Berman (Contact Author)

London Business School - Department of Marketing ( email )

Sussex Place
Regent's Park
London, NW1 4SA
United Kingdom

Alixandra Barasch

New York University ( email )

40 W. 4th St.
New York, NY 10012
United States

Emma Levine

University of Chicago - Booth School of Business ( email )

5807 S. Woodlawn Avenue
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

Deborah A. Small

University of Pennsylvania - Marketing Department ( email )

700 Jon M. Huntsman Hall
3730 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6340
United States

Carnegie Mellon University ( email )

Pittsburgh, PA 15213-3890
United States

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