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
Date Written: September 1, 2014
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
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