New research suggests we feel better about performing altruistic acts when we have a personal connection to the issue.
Altruism actions may include supporting an important cause, saving a life, or providing monetary support. In the study, investigators discovered the satisfaction gained from the giving of oneself makes the giver feel more generous and increases commitment to a cause.
In a series of five studies, psychologists Drs. Minjung Koo (SKK Sungkyunkwan University Graduate School of Business) and Ayelet Fishbach (University of Chicago Booth School of Business) examined the impact of various types of giving on the giver.
The selfless behaviors analyzed included donating an endowment, anonymous vs. personalized notes to people with disabilities, donating blood vs money, and signing a petition for future giving.
“Giving something that represents the self, such as giving one’s own blood, signature, or possessions, will lead the giver to perceive herself as a more generous and committed person, compared to giving that is less associated with the self, like monetary giving,” said lead author Koo.
“This change in self-perception has an important implication: the giver is more likely to give again in the future.”
Study findings appear in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.
In their first study, researchers found that giving something away that had been in a person’s possession makes a difference, even if the ownership was brief. In the experiment, half the participants — 50 South Korean students — were told at the start of the study they could keep a pen, the other half only told they could keep it at the end of session.
All participants were then asked to donate the pen. Those who possessed the pen the longest before donating it to a cause reported feeling more generous and committed, as well as seeing the pen as more valuable, than the short-term owners.
The researchers also conducted two studies comparing donating blood and money; In both scenarios, participants imagined giving blood or not.
The studies utilized 80 U.S. workers who previously donated blood. Those who imagined donating blood reported higher generosity than those who imagined donating an equal value of money.
The former group also reported stronger feelings of commitment. Researchers followed this study with a similar one, this time allowing the participants to choose the option — donating blood or money — whatever they felt was “easiest.” Again, researchers discovered stronger commitment from those the virtually shared their body.
A final set of studies showed that the use of a person’s signature on form letters and charity donations led the participants to feel more generous and committed than those who provided an anonymous note or donation. Those who provided their names also promised to donate again in the future.
“Across these studies, we find self-giving does not need to be public, effortful, or tangible; the only requirement is that giving is associated with the self,” said Koo.