Two Routes to the Perception of Need: The role of affective vs. deliberative information processing in prosocial behavior
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Emotional reactions are a critical element in the motivation to help others. For the purpose of the current research, these reactions are broadly conceptualized as focused either on the self or on other human beings. Self-focused affect (e.g., anticipated regret) motivates helping through the reduction of an unpleasant emotional state, whereas other- focused affect (e.g., sympathy) motivates helping due to concern for the victim. This dissertation investigates the role of affective vs. deliberative information processing in the genesis and use of emotional reactions in decisions to provide financial aid to people in distress. In five studies, a model of affective vs. deliberative information processing is examined within the domain of prosocial behavior. Three main hypotheses investigated whether information processing mode influenced participants' donations, affective reactions, and the relationship between affective reactions and donations. Processing mode was manipulated by a cognitive load paradigm, a priming procedure, the number and identifiability of victims, serial vs. single presentations, and the addition of background statistics related to the victim's situation. Furthermore, participants' ability to visually focus on a single target presented with and without distractor victims was investigated as part of an attentional mechanism that generates affective responses. The results supported a model in which deliberative processing has potentially disruptive effects on the generation of other-focused affect and on the extent to which these types of emotions predicted donations. The importance of other-focused affect in donation decisions was augmented by reducing deliberative capacity, priming affective processing, and increasing the affective salience of victims by identifying them. The influence of self-focused affect on donations was robust to changes in information processing mode and appeared to be governed by different mechanisms than other-focused affect. Humanitarian aid organizations should be sensitive to these issues when eliciting donations from potential donors. Implications and future research are discussed.