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Fewer but poorer: Benevolent partiality in prosocial preferences

Gabriele Paolacci and Gizem Yalcin

Judgment and Decision Making, 2020, vol. 15, issue 2, 173-181

Abstract: A prosocial action typically provides a more sizable benefit when directed at those who have less as opposed to those who have more. However, not all prosocial acts have a direct bearing on socioeconomic disadvantage, nor does disadvantage necessarily imply a greater need for the prosocial outcome. Of interest here, welfare impact may depend on the number of beneficiaries but not on their socioeconomic status. Across four preregistered studies of life-saving decisions, we demonstrate that when allocating resources, many people are benevolently partial. That is, they choose to help the disadvantaged even when this transparently implies sacrificing lives. We suggest that people construct prosocial aid as an opportunity to correct morally aversive inequalities, thus making relatively more disadvantaged recipients a more justifiable target of help. Benevolent partiality is reduced when people reflect beforehand on what aspects they will prioritize in their donation decision.

Keywords: prosocial preferences; altruism; consequentialism; distributive justice; inequality (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2020
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