Friday, July 12, 2019

Ineffective altruism: "Doing the “most good” can actually come to be viewed as less moral when it incurs the opportunity cost of helping someone socially closer in much less severe need."

Law, Kyle F., Dylan Campbell, and Brendan Gaesser. 2019. “Biased Benevolence: The Morality of Effective Altruism.” PsyArXiv. July 11. doi:10.31234/

Abstract: A great deal of work across psychology and philosophy on altruism has been devoted to increasing helping behavior, decreasing social biases, and documenting the positive moral judgments associated with helping others in need. But is altruism always morally good, or is the morality of altruism fundamentally shaped by the social opportunity costs that often accompany helping decisions? Across four studies, we reveal that, although helping both socially closer and socially distant others is generally perceived favorably (Study 1), in cases of realistic tradeoffs in social distance and gains in welfare where helping socially distant others (e.g., strangers in a distant country) necessitates not helping socially closer others (e.g., friends and family) with the same resources, helping is deemed as less morally acceptable (Studies 2-4). Further, making helping decisions at a cost to socially closer others negatively affects judgments of relationship quality, leading one to be perceived as a worse family member, friend, community member, and countryperson (Study 3), and in turn, decreases cooperative behavior with the helper (Study 4). Yet individual differences in identification with humanity consistently attenuated the effect of social distance on people’s moral judgments of helping. Considered together, these findings challenge notions that more helping will always be viewed as more moral and reveal that attempts to decrease biases in helping may have previously unconsidered consequences for moral judgments, relationships, and cooperation.

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