Psychological barriers to effective altruism: An evolutionary perspective

Bastian Jaeger*, Mark van Vugt

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalReview articleAcademicpeer-review


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
Pages (from-to)130-134
Number of pages5
JournalCurrent Opinion in Psychology
Early online date17 Sept 2021
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Author(s)


  • Conformity
  • Effective altruism
  • Evolutionary psychology
  • Parochialism
  • Status


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