Moral Reputation and the Psychology of Giving: Praise Judgments Track Personal Sacrifice Rather Than Social Good

AbstractDo we praise altruistic acts because they produce social benefits or because they require a personal sacrifice? On the one hand, utilitarianism demands that we maximize the social benefit of our actions, which could motivate altruistic acts. On the other hand, altruistic acts signal reputation precisely because personal sacrifice is a strong, costly signal. Consistent with the reputational account, these studies find that in the absence of reputational cues, people mainly rely on personal cost rather than social benefit when evaluating prosocial actors (Study 1). However, when reputation is known, personal cost acts as a much weaker signal and play a smaller role in moral evaluations (Study 2). We argue that these results have far-reaching implications for the psychology and philosophy of altruism, as well as practical import for charitable giving, particularly the effective altruism movement.

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