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Keywords:

  • affect;
  • information processing;
  • donations;
  • prosocial behavior

Abstract

Emotional reactions are an important element in the motivation to help others. Our research examined 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 two studies, we investigated whether information processing mode influenced participants' donations, affective reactions, and the relationship between the two. Information processing was manipulated by a priming procedure and a cognitive load paradigm. Participants' empathic emotions were assessed by self-reported sympathy, compassion, and distress. Additionally, we measured how much better a donation would make participants feel and their anticipated regret for not donating, which were taken as indicators of their motivation to donate as a form of mood management. Results suggest that different mechanisms govern the initial decision to donate money (Stage 1) compared to later decisions on how much money to donate (Stage 2). Motivations for mood management were primarily predictive of donation decisions, whereas empathic feelings were predictive of the donation amount. The potentially disruptive effects of deliberative processing on prosocial behavior are discussed in light of a two-stage processing model of donations. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.