Selfish or Selfless? On the Signal Value of Emotion in Altruistic Behavior

Barasch, A., Levine, E. E., Berman, J. Z., & Small, D. A. (2014). Selfish or selfless? On the signal value of emotion in altruistic behavior. Journal of personality and social psychology, 107(3), 393.

Posted: 12 Sep 2018

See all articles by Alixandra Barasch

Alixandra Barasch

INSEAD; New York University (NYU) - Leonard N. Stern School of Business

Emma Levine

University of Chicago - Booth School of Business

Jonathan Berman

London Business School - Department of Marketing

Deborah A. Small

University of Pennsylvania - Marketing Department; Carnegie Mellon University

Date Written: September 1, 2014

Abstract

Theories that reject the existence of altruism presume that emotional benefits serve as ulterior motives for doing good deeds. These theories argue that even in the absence of material and reputational benefits, individuals reap utility from the feelings associated with doing good. In response to this normative view of altruism, this article examines the descriptive question of whether laypeople penalize emotional prosocial actors. Six studies find that emotion serves as a positive signal of moral character, despite the intrapsychic benefits associated with it. This is true when emotion motivates prosocial behavior (Studies 1, 2, 3, and 5) and when emotion is a positive outcome of prosocial behavior (i.e., “warm glow”; Studies 4, 5, and 6). Emotional actors are considered to be moral because people believe emotion provides an honest and direct signal that the actor feels a genuine concern for others. Consequently, prosocial actors who are motivated by the expectation of emotional rewards are judged differently than prosocial actors who are motivated by other benefits, such as reputational or material rewards (Study 6). These results suggest that laypeople do not view altruism as incompatible with all benefits to the self.

Keywords: prosocial behavior, moral character, emotion, authenticity, alturism

Suggested Citation

Barasch, Alixandra and Levine, Emma and Berman, Jonathan and Small, Deborah A., Selfish or Selfless? On the Signal Value of Emotion in Altruistic Behavior (September 1, 2014). Barasch, A., Levine, E. E., Berman, J. Z., & Small, D. A. (2014). Selfish or selfless? On the signal value of emotion in altruistic behavior. Journal of personality and social psychology, 107(3), 393., Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3240061

Alixandra Barasch

INSEAD ( email )

Boulevard de Constance
Fontainebleau, 77305
France

New York University (NYU) - Leonard N. Stern School of Business ( email )

44 West 4th Street
Suite 9-160
New York, NY NY 10012
United States

Emma Levine (Contact Author)

University of Chicago - Booth School of Business ( email )

5807 S. Woodlawn Avenue
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

Jonathan Berman

London Business School - Department of Marketing ( email )

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

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

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
392
PlumX Metrics