Having less, giving less: the effects of unfavourable social comparisons of affluence on people’s willingness to act for the benefit of others

Ana Gheorghiu, Mitchell J. Callan, William J. Skylark

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Abstract

Previous research has found a negative relationship between individual differences in personal relative deprivation (i.e., resentment stemming from the belief that one is worse off than similar others) and prosociality. Whether personal relative deprivation causes reductions in people’s willingness to act for the benefit of others, however, is yet to be established. Across six studies, we experimentally examined whether experiences of personal relative deprivation via unfavourable (vs. favourable or lateral) social comparisons of affluence reduced prosociality towards known others and strangers. We found that making hypothetical (Study 1) or real (Study 2) unfavourable social comparisons of affluence in workplace contexts reduced participants’ organisational citizenship behavioural intentions. Furthermore, adverse social comparisons of affluence reduced generosity towards the targets of those comparisons during a Dictator Game (Studies 3 to 6). Across studies we also measured participants’ subjective and objective socioeconomic status and found, contrary to previous theory and research, no consistent relationship between status and prosociality, and no modulation of this relationship by either local or macro-level inequality. These results suggest that local, specific interpersonal comparisons of affluence play a more dominant role in people’s willingness to act for the benefit of a comparison target than do their subjective or objective class rank or the prevailing income inequality of the state in which they reside.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)946-961
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Applied Social Psychology
Volume51
Issue number9
Early online date27 Jul 2021
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 16 Sept 2021

Keywords

  • Income inequality
  • personal relative deprivation
  • prosocial behaviour
  • social class
  • social comparison

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