Giving Money, Giving Shocks

June 6, 2008
Posted by Jay Livingston

Brad Wright has a post about giving money to charity. Brad quotes Michael Kruse’s review of Who Really Cares by Arthur Brooks.
Brooks reports that the key indicator of giving is not political affiliation but weekly attendance at worship. Conservative and liberal weekly attenders are the highest givers although conservatives give slightly more.
The implication is a kinds-of-people difference: people who attend church are more generous kinds of people than are the curmudgeonly non-attenders. Brooks extends the comparison to other traits as well – political orientation and especially views on government redistribution of wealth. He paints a picture of generous, churchgoing, conservative, anti-redistributionist givers and their stingy counterparts on the opposite end of these traits.

O.K. Maybe individual traits matter. But so do situational pressures. People who for whatever reason go to church every week are confronted with direct in-person requests for donations. Some churches increase the social situational pressure by “passing the plate,” thereby subjecting each person’s giving or non-giving to public scrutiny. People who don’t go to church may get appeals in the mail (oh boy, do we get appeals in the mail), but these are far easier to ignore even when they do give you those little address labels.

It’s a little (or maybe a lot) like the Milgram experiment. The subject is being asked to do something he might not otherwise do. The subject (parishioner) is more likely to comply when the person making the request is in the same room. And he is far more likely to comply when he finds himself surrounded by others who are readily going along with the request. If these situational forces can pressure people to inflict painful and perhaps lethal shocks to a stranger, they can certainly affect less conflict-ridden behavior like giving money to charity.

The assumption about the importance of individual traits is right there on the book jacket: Who Really Cares. The title would more accurately be Who Really Gives or, since Brook’s data come largely from surveys (GSS, SCCBS), Who Really Says They Give.

It’s not as catchy a title, but how about another book: In What Situations Do People Give?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Social Psychology of Self-Reported Situational Giving.