I’m Moral, But I Won’t Help You: The Distinct Roles of Empathy and Justice in Donations

Donating to charitable causes is generally perceived as a moral, prosocial behavior, but this may not always be the case.

Though moral identity tends to have a positive effect on prosocial behavior, moralidentity does not unconditionally enhance charitable giving. Four studies demonstrate that moral identity decreases donations when recipients are responsible for their plight.

Mediation analysis reveals that empathy and justice underlie these effects such that moral identity increases donations for recipients with low plight responsibility through increased empathy,

but moral identity decreases donations to recipients with high plight responsibility due to perceptions of justice. Importantly, donations to recipients who are responsible for their plight can be enhanced when donors’ immorality is made salient, evoking empathy for recipients, particularly among donors with high moral identity.

This research makes theoretical contributions in addition to providing implications for non-profit organizations whose recipients may be perceived as responsible for their plight.