The Psychology of Giving


| 13 Comments
After this past canning weekend I thought deeply about why people give to THON. This is a recurring question of mine. Is it because they know a family member who goes to Penn Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for 74866_10152136161095133_830096315_n.jpgState, or maybe they are Penn State alum? Is it our signs and cans that say "Help Kids Fight Cancer" that guilt trip people into donating, making people ask themselves "what kind of human being am I if I don't help kids fight cancer?" Or maybe the ripple effect is responsible - once the first car donates every car behind it donates. Sure, THON is an amazing cause, but what really compels drivers to drop a dollar into our tin cans? 


Many studies have been done to explain the psychology of giving. As a result many roles
have been found to play a part. One study shows that "people are more willing to help one individual in need than many."(Singer) In one experiment, people were given information of "Food shortages in Malawi are affecting more than 3 million children." The second group was
Thumbnail image for WATER_ClnWtrFund.jpg
shown a picture of a 7 year old Malian girl named Rokia and told 
"her life will be changed for the better by your gift." People in the second group gave more. This idea that people feel like they're doing more by saving one life than by helping save many is why organizations like World Vision tell donators they are "adopting" a child. The donators receive a picture of their child millions of miles away in a poverty stricken country, coupled with letters written by the child, thanking them for their generosity and giving positive updates of their improved life. 
Now, whether or not the person's money is actually going to that child in the photograph or into a larger pool of money and disbursed based on need is unknown. And whether or not the letter the person is receiving is from their sponsored child or even a child in need is also up for question. Regardless, this is a charity gimmick to increase donations based on the
     psychology behind giving. THON uses this tactic too. 
We "Adopt A Family" to make it real. We are not just helping kids with cancer. We are helping our kids with cancer and their families. We form relationships with them leading to stronger fundraising efforts.  

This article, "The Science Behind Our Generosity," in "Newsweek Magazine" also states that "futility thinking" plays a role in our donations. This study shows that people will give more to 80% of 100 lives at risk than they will to save 20% of 1,000 lives at risk. Do the math; people would rather save 80 lives than 200. 

Now, the third study shown in this article reverts back to my original question. Why do people donate to THON on canning weekends? One of the reasons I suggested was a ripple effect leading to donations. The first car at a stoplight donates, then every car after feels like the should, too, donate, "knowing that others are giving makes [them] more likely to give." Vice versa, if the first car doesn't donate, from my experience, I have noticed the chances of other cars donating is decreased dramatically. "Seeing other bystanders not helping makes us less likely to help." This held true this past weekend while I was raising money FTK. I had a booth for THON in my town. It was undeniable that once I got one person to give money, others crowded around ready to do their good deed of the day. 

Every charitable organization uses some tactic to real in their supporters. Scientists have done many studies to learn about the psychology of giving. Organizations, much like THON, use these to their advantage to increase money raised FTK. The science behind giving made it possible to raise 10M for THON 2012. 

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13 Comments

A very relatable blog post for us PSU kids. I did some further research on the issue and found that giving is an instinct. We see someone or a group of people in need and our first instinct is to help in any way possible. The more we think about our donation and the longer the process, the less likely we will give as much as our initial response would have been. For example, charities advertised on television which require us to call a toll free number or register to donate online are less likely to receive as many donations as a THON can would receive on the side of the road. To donate to THON, someone simply needs to dig into their cup holder then stick their hand out the window while waiting at a red light. The convenience and initial act of generosity combined creates an extremely effective way of raising money for a good cause. Here is the link which talks about I've just discussed!

http://www.bostonglobe.com/ideas/2011/12/04/why-give-charity/yk1Kk9Ovbhp5VHQxPP7BsM/story.html

this is an interesting study. also, it is possible by the advertising aesthetics on display that catch peoples attention like the colors of the words suggest a concerning connotative and those other semiotic principles. but, some people have pessimistic attitudes and figure these philanthropic acts are useless because at the end of the day, one effort is not going to stop it from permanently happening. so yeah, both psychological sides are pretty deep in detail but I like this article.

Such an interesting thing to look into. It was my first weekend canning for THON this past weekend and I too was curious how the donating process works. Some groups at red lights would have up to 7 cars donating, while some would have none. The ripple effect is definitely real because I've noticed cars pull out their wallets after they've seen a car around them donate. I also received a lot of donations from cancer survivors, people who were close to people with cancer, etc. I think that reading the signs should be a huge motivator for most people, but unfortunately that's not always the case. A lot of people who donated to us at our store front location mentioned that they don't typically donate to people by the road because it's dangerous. A big factor I picked up on was also if people had kids in their car. One of the things I had been shouting was that donating would bring people good karma, and when you have young kids in the car who could be stricken with cancer any time you definitely feel obligated to donate. I definitely think a lot of people are drawn in by the ripple effect combined with the words on the posters/cans.

Such an interesting thing to look into. It was my first weekend canning for THON this past weekend and I too was curious how the donating process works. Some groups at red lights would have up to 7 cars donating, while some would have none. The ripple effect is definitely real because I've noticed cars pull out their wallets after they've seen a car around them donate. I also received a lot of donations from cancer survivors, people who were close to people with cancer, etc. I think that reading the signs should be a huge motivator for most people, but unfortunately that's not always the case. A lot of people who donated to us at our store front location mentioned that they don't typically donate to people by the road because it's dangerous. A big factor I picked up on was also if people had kids in their car. One of the things I had been shouting was that donating would bring people good karma, and when you have young kids in the car who could be stricken with cancer any time you definitely feel obligated to donate. I definitely think a lot of people are drawn in by the ripple effect combined with the words on the posters/cans.

This is an especially interesting topic for most of the student body at Penn State. Another observation I made when canning that is relevant to this topic were the stereotypes of people that were willing to donate and those that weren't. I noticed that the car that is falling apart with five kids sitting in the back seat would be willing to donate 20 dollars when the older woman in an expensive car would not even look at me. Why is this? Why would the person who obviously could use the 20 dollars be willing to give it up when the wealthy were not? There were certainly exceptions to this stereotypes but the observation holds true every time I've gone canning. This question was observed by Paul Riff, a Ph.D candidate in psychology at the University of California. He states that the more elite a person is in social rankings, the more self-focused they become. Paul Riff, a Ph.D candidate in psychology at the University of California. He states that the more elite a person is in social rankings, the more self-focused they become. Did you notice this while you went canning?

It's often been said that people who do a good deed, shouldn't do a good deed simply for the fact of "doing a good deed." In other words, people should not be driven to help others simply because of the supposed karma that is then coming their way, but by the fact that they know it is morally correct. The link below shows how people that give or do acts of kindness get an actual high. There does in fact seem to be a science (like most things) to this phenomenon. As the link below details, the "helper's high" can lead to a longer life according to one study.


http://www.webmd.com/balance/features/science-good-deeds

I think this topic, like Rebecca mentioned, is especially relevant to Penn State students constantly immersed in THON. It made me think back to sophomore year of high school when we read Crime and Punishment -- we discussed whether there is such thing as pure charity. Do we donate to help others, or do we donate to feel better about ourselves? Of course feeling better about ourselves is a perk, but when you get to the core of the issue, do we give solely to feel good? If we look at it in this arguably cynical way, then we are all just being selfish when we give to others.
I saw you mention the aspect of showing a picture of a child the person donating would be helping-- this definitely gets into our psyche and guilt trips us into donating. The issue hits closer to home when you see an image of an actual child who needs your help -- kind of like the pathetic commercials with Sarah McLaughlin asking to donate money to helpless animals.
An article from Psychology Today is more optimistic than I was in the beginning of this post: "Our capacity for empathy is so deeply wired that we respond not just to actual suffering of actual living beings but to the representation of suffering." This article states that we as humans are such complex and empathetic creatures that we have no choice but to give to others who are less fortunate. What does everyone think? Is there such thing as pure charity?

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/insight-therapy/201010/the-pitfalls-charity

I think this topic, like Rebecca mentioned, is especially relevant to Penn State students constantly immersed in THON. It made me think back to sophomore year of high school when we read Crime and Punishment -- we discussed whether there is such thing as pure charity. Do we donate to help others, or do we donate to feel better about ourselves? Of course feeling better about ourselves is a perk, but when you get to the core of the issue, do we give solely to feel good? If we look at it in this arguably cynical way, then we are all just being selfish when we give to others.
I saw you mention the aspect of showing a picture of a child the person donating would be helping-- this definitely gets into our psyche and guilt trips us into donating. The issue hits closer to home when you see an image of an actual child who needs your help -- kind of like the pathetic commercials with Sarah McLaughlin asking to donate money to helpless animals.
An article from Psychology Today is more optimistic than I was in the beginning of this post: "Our capacity for empathy is so deeply wired that we respond not just to actual suffering of actual living beings but to the representation of suffering." This article states that we as humans are such complex and empathetic creatures that we have no choice but to give to others who are less fortunate. What does everyone think? Is there such thing as pure charity?

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/insight-therapy/201010/the-pitfalls-charity

I agree that when it is a single person in need of money versus a group of people, more people will donate money for the one person. I think that this is because people feel an actual connection to the single person, and that leads them to want to help them out more. I know that for THON, the fact that each group has a sponsor child makes it that much more meaningful, and makes someone want to help out more than they would if it was simply for all children with cancer.

Hi Sarah! I definitely think your on to something. When I go canning, I'm definitely much louder than my peers, and am able to get the attention of cars around me pretty easily. Ive found that once I get the attention of one car, it is more likely that the rest of the cars in line will begin to donate. I have also found that if no one steps up, no other car will donate, even if the line at the stop light is very long. I think that my experience supports your idea of a "ripple effect" that once someone donates, the rest of the cars in line feel pressured to donate as well.

Taylor, to respond to your comment you're absolutely right that people donate more spontaneously than if they think about it. (Possibly a connection between my previous blog posts on second guessing)
http://www.personal.psu.edu/afr3/blogs/siowfa12/2012/10/the-science-behind-second-guessing.html
Sometimes while I'm canning I'll notice that at first people don't whip out their wallets to spare a few dollars but after they see me smiling and jumping around, yelling "help kids fight cancer" then they give in. After one gives in everyone else frantically looks for their wallet buried in the bottom of their purses or back pockets. I just love when someone starts looking for their wallet 2 seconds before the light changed and then shoot me a sympathetic look along with mouthing "I'm so sorry" through the window...

And Rebecca, I have actually thought about writing a blog on studies of whether or not the price of a car effects the amount of donations at intersections. It almost always holds true that your average sedan or mini van, and even the below average car thats wheels are about to fall off that donate the most and most often. Occasionally I will receive a $20 bill from someone in a Mercedes or BMW but more often than not I am ignore. It's always a great feeling when someone hands you a $20, no matter the car, and then you open it up to realize it's not just one but 5 twenty dollar bills!

I read over the article you posted Jeffrey. I found the most interesting part to be that studies show 52% of women in the study who had not done volunteer work had experienced a major illness. The 36% who did volunteer had not.

Another study in this article shows that those who volunteer live longer than nonvolunteers. And another study shows that volunteering reduces early death by 42%. This effect is greater than exercising four times a week! Maybe our nutrition classes should be teaching us to give instead of go to the gym...

This brings me to a question... is their really hard evidence of science behind these percentages? Or is it karma? Spiritual, sure, but maybe what goes around comes around is a more realistic phrase to live by than we think. If we give good fortune, perhaps we will get good fortune such as a longer life.

I wonder if donating money or volunteering releases endorphins -- another link to a previous blog. http://www.personal.psu.edu/afr3/blogs/siowfa12/2012/09/natural-euphoria.html

I always found it most interesting that when I'm out there canning it is not the BMW or Lexus that takes the time to pull over to give a dollar or two, rather it's people who seem like they are not as well-off. I've come to think that maybe these people are more able to to feel for others who face adversity, like kids with cancer. The man driving that shiny, new BMW may not be able to fathom the idea of constant struggle in his life. It's sad, but maybe you won't give to something that you don't truly understand.

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