Psychological barriers to effective altruism: An evolutionary perspective

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People usually engage in (or at least profess to engage in) altruistic acts to benefit others. Yet, they routinely fail to maximize how much good is achieved with their donated money and time. An accumulating body of research has uncovered various psychological factors that can explain why people’s altruism tends to be ineffective. These prior studies have mostly focused on proximate explanations (e.g., emotions, preferences, lay beliefs). Here, we adopt an evolutionary perspective and highlight how three fundamental motives—parochialism, status, and conformity—can explain many seemingly disparate failures to do good effectively. Our approach outlines ultimate explanations for ineffective altruism and we illustrate how fundamental motives can be leveraged to promote more effective giving.
Original languageEnglish
JournalCurrent Opinion in Psychology
Publication statusPublished - 2021


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