Monday, September 10, 2012

Investing in Karma - When Wanting Promotes Helping

An interesting piece from Converse et al. provides reliable evidence that people do good deeds when they want something beyond their control. This suggests that they act in accord with a karmic tenet rooted in immanent justice (but doesn't necessarily imply pervasive explicit belief in karma.) Here is the abstract slightly edited:
People often face outcomes of important events that are beyond their personal control, such as when they wait for an acceptance letter, job offer, or medical test results. We suggest that when wanting and uncertainty are high and personal control is lacking, people may be more likely to help others, as if they can encourage fate’s favor by doing good deeds proactively. Four experiments support this karmic-investment hypothesis. The first two experiments show that when people want an outcome over which they have little control, their donations of time and money increase, but their participation in other rewarding activities does not. A third experiment shows that, in addition, at a job fair, job seekers who feel the process is outside (vs. within) their control make more generous pledges to charities. A final experiment shows that karmic investments increase optimism about a desired outcome. We conclude by discussing the role of personal control and magical beliefs in this phenomenon.
Some clips from their discussion:
Past research has found that people automatically anticipate negative outcomes following behaviors that tempt fate, and that people associate positive outcomes with virtuous behaviors. Thus, people may develop a basic good-behavior—good-outcome association, such that hoping for good outcomes activates the cognitive script to do good deeds...whether based on explicit or implicit belief, some version of a karmic belief system must be at least momentarily activated when people face important, uncontrollable outcomes...our findings fit with the notion that people turn to external sources of control, such as gods and governments, when internal control is lacking, and may even turn to apparently magical systems when necessary...rather than increasing selfishness, wanting can increase helping...people may not only pursue reciprocal exchanges interpersonally, but may also attempt to bargain with the universe.

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