New research from UC Berkeley social scientists show that atheists are more motivated by compassion to be generous, than highly religious people, whose motivation toward generosity is less based on empathy and compassion, and more on other factors, such a concern for their reputation, or doctrine. Highly religious people help others more from a sense of moral obligation rather than an emotional connection with the person in need, driven by empathy and compassion. The scientists used three different, pretty large-scale experiments to draw their conclusions. The first experiment was a survey of >1,000 American adults, which showed that people who agreed with statements such as if they felt protective towards someone who was being taken advantage of, tended to show more generosity and acts of kindness. Non-believers and less religious people came out ahead in this survey, in terms of compassion as a motivating factor. In the second experiment, 101 American adults watched either a neutral video or a heart-wrenching video of poor children. Then, they were given $10 and asked to give it to a stranger. The least religious participants were motivated by the emotionally charged video to give more of their money to a stranger. The video of poor children did not change the level of generosity of religious participants. The third experiment involved > 200 college students, who were asked to report how compassionate they felt at that moment. They then played "economic trust games" in which they were given money that they could choose to share, or not share, with a stranger. The students who scored low on the religiosity scale, and high on feelings of compassion, were more inclined to share their winnings with strangers than other participants in the study.
It's funny, religious people think we are immoral, cold-blooded people, and American trust us less than any other group, yet they would do well to expect more help, generosity and compassion from us than from highly religious people.
"Love thy neighbor" is preached from many a pulpit. But new research from the University of California, Berkeley, suggests that the highly religious are less motivated by compassion when helping a stranger than are atheists, agnostics and less religious people.
In three experiments, social scientists found that compassion consistently drove lessreligious people to be more generous. For highly religious people, however, compassion was largely unrelated to how generous they were, according to the findings which are published in the July issue of the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.
The results challenge a widespread assumption that acts of generosity and charity are largely driven by feelings of empathy and compassion, researchers said. In the study, the link between compassion and generosity was found to be stronger for those who identified as being non-religious or less religious.
"Overall, we find that for less religious people, the strength of their emotional connection to another person is critical to whether they will help that person or not," said UC Berkeley social psychologist Robb Willer, a co-author of the study. "The more religious, on the other hand, may ground their generosity less in emotion, and more in other factors such as doctrine, a communal identity, or reputational concerns."
Compassion is defined in the study as an emotion felt when people see the suffering of others which then motivates them to help, often at a personal risk or cost.
While the study examined the link between religion, compassion and generosity, it did not directly examine the reasons for why highly religious people are less compelled by compassion to help others. However, researchers hypothesize that deeply religious people may be more strongly guided by a sense of moral obligation than their more non-religious counterparts.
"We hypothesized that religion would change how compassion impacts generous behavior," said study lead author Laura Saslow, who conducted the research as a doctoral student at UC Berkeley.
Saslow, who is now a postdoctoral scholar at UC San Francisco, said she was inspired to examine this question after an altruistic, nonreligious friend lamented that he had only donated to earthquake recovery efforts in Haiti after watching an emotionally stirring video of a woman being saved from the rubble, not because of a logical understanding that help was needed.
Read the rest here.
This is great. Best thing I read all day. Thanks, Adriana.
Thank you, Victor! I was beginning to think that nobody here cared too much about compassion (just kiddin' actually, fishing for comments, LOLZ)
Well this goes again to prove that theists are hypocritical insentive fools (sorry if I sound a bit strong here, but I do believe this...); it made me wonder about a bully-free America if there are stats showing the degree of religiosity of participants; I' pretty sure that atheists or less religious people would be more prone to help and participate.
Thisis yet another survey which proves that atheists are highly moral people...It does make me feel beter...
Very good point about bullying, Marianne. I would be willing to bet a lot of bullies are very religious kids. Intolerance towards gays and misogyny has been indoctrinated into many kids. It's very sad.
Every parent should be able to recognize that when children start doing things by themselves instead of doing it because they are being told to do it, these children have gained a degree of MATURITY... It's as if the religious were artificially kept morally infantile.
National Public Radio picked up on this story!
Like the bus 'commercial'.
It's my favorite ad for atheism :-)
I'm very partial to it; wish I see it on lots of buses....
A Christian comments on this story...to actually say that this is TRUE. Wow.
A friend of mine, Andrew, who considers himself marginally religious, if at all, is a regular follower of my stuff. He sent me an article recently that cites research finding that atheists are more compassionate and generous than highly religious ....
Actually, this doesn't surprise me. Back when I waited tables, the Sunday after-church crowd was the absolute worst of the week to wait on. They took forever, were super picky, were terrible tippers and tended to be the most critical customers I had. It really killed me when, instead of leaving a tip, they'd leave a tract on the table. If you're not familiar with these, they're little booklets that some Christians pass out to try and save people. They justify substituting this for money because saving my soul is a far greater gift than a couple of dollars.
Well, I've got news for you. Last time I tried to pay rent with a tract, my landlord wasn't impressed. Second, that assumes an awful lot about me, my beliefs and my needs, doesn't it?
I'm digressing, but the point is, I identified with this article just by the title alone. It actually reminded me of this church sign that I've posted before, but which warrants a second look:
Another friend of mine, Paul, posted the following reflection about why this somewhat counter-intuitive phenomenon might be. He said:
When religious people do "good things" they are often doing so in conditioned response to an ethereal reward/punishment set of beliefs. When non-believers do "good things" its because they want to do them.
I also wonder if it has something to do with the comfort that comes with being part o the cultural majority. Yes, there are Christians who will claim we're part of a persecuted minority, but that's simply ignorant. Christians have had the lion's share of power in this country for a long, long time, and it shows in our attitudes. We assume that what "we believe" is normal, and that anything else is an aberration. The result of this is that anyone who doesn't claim to be a Christian is made much more aware of it because of their difference.
It's like how I've written before about the inherent privilege of being straight. Generally, straight people don't think about being straight as much as gay people think about being gay, namely because the "default" sexual orientation -- aka, the majority identity -- is that of straight people.
Fact is, we don't think about who we are and how we act nearly as much when we're the ones in control.
Atheists, on the other hand, are fairly regularly persecuted (socially at least) for their lack of belief. They are made quite aware of their atheism, either because of how they're treated for it, or because they have to keep silent about it for fear of being ridiculed. So perhaps with this tendency to be more self-conscious comes an equally more self-aware set of behaviors and attitudes.
Put another way, if you're part of a group that is stereotyped in a negative way, you might go out of your way to act differently, even at an unconscious level, to try and defy that stereotype.
I could be reaching here, but I think there's something here that's basic to contemporary human nature. So although I don't think there's anything inherently better or worse about an atheist brain or heart than a Christian one, I do expect that atheists may work a little harder to convince the rest of the culture around them that they're decent, loving, caring people, regardless of whether they believe in God.
Is this a case for atheism? An indictment of Christianity. Not really either, I think. If I'm right, it tells us more about the power of cultural norms, the potential negative (but relatively invisible) effects of majority consciousness, and the responsibility of those with the privilege of being in the majority to go out of their way to act against the negative effects of such privilege.
All I know is that, when someone tells me I defy many of the common expectations they have of Christians, I take that as a compliment. I wish it wasn't the case, but it's clear from the empty seats in many of our churches that we have done an awful lot of this to ourselves.