Home Society & Culture Effort-Based Self-Interest Motivation Negatively Impacts Altruistic Donation Behaviour

Effort-Based Self-Interest Motivation Negatively Impacts Altruistic Donation Behaviour

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At the heart of human interaction and societal well-being, prosocial behaviours such as altruism – actions that benefit others at a personal cost – are fundamental. Although the effect of effort on altruistic actions has been a topic of previous studies, this new research delves into the less-explored territory of how effort-based self-interest motivation impacts these behaviours.

In a new study published in the journal Psychophysiology, researchers from China have uncovered crucial insights into how self-interest-driven motivation shapes altruistic donation behaviour and brain responses. This research marks a significant stride in understanding the complex mechanics of human altruism and the factors influencing prosocial behaviour.

The first part of the study involved an effort-expenditure for rewards task (EEfRT) followed by a charitable donation task. Fifty-seven participants were asked to accumulate money through a series of tasks that required varying levels of effort. Subsequently, they were given the opportunity to donate a portion of their earnings to charity.

The findings were revealing. There was a notable negative correlation between the effort participants put into the EEfRT task and the amount they donated. Simply put, individuals who exerted more effort to accumulate wealth were less inclined to donate a higher portion of their earnings, suggesting a direct impact of self-interested motivation on altruistic behaviour.

In a more in-depth exploration, the second experiment recorded the brain activity of 36 participants using EEG while they engaged in similar tasks. The focus was on the N2 component – a brain response associated with cognitive control and attention allocation during decision-making processes.

Here again, the results echoed those of the first experiment. Individuals with stronger self-interest motivation, indicated by their effort levels in the EEfRT task, exhibited smaller N2 amplitudes while processing donation-related information. This suggests that such individuals allocate less cognitive control and attention to altruistic decision-making.

These insights are significant in the context of expected utility theory. The theory postulates that individuals make decisions to maximise their utility or satisfaction. Therefore, those who assign higher value to monetary rewards are more likely to retain these rewards rather than donate them. This behavioural pattern, now underscored with neuroscientific evidence, demonstrates how self-interest motivation can overshadow altruistic impulses.

Moreover, the study also shows the role of cognitive control in managing the inherent conflict in decision-making – choosing between personal gain and altruistic acts. The lower N2 amplitudes in individuals with stronger self-interest motivation indicate a reduced engagement in cognitive control when faced with decisions about donating to charity.

The study’s findings have important implications for understanding the psychological and neural mechanisms underlying prosocial behaviours. They also highlight how motivational factors can influence the allocation of cognitive and attentional resources towards altruistic actions.

But the research has limitations that open avenues for future exploration. One such area is the investigation of neural signals during the feedback stage of donations. Also, incorporating a condition without prosocial stimuli could provide a more direct understanding of how cognitive control is specifically engaged in altruistic decision-making.

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