Highly Religious People Are Less Motivated by Compassion Than Are Non-Believers

Praying HandsVia ScienceDaily:

“Love thy neighbor” is preached from many a pulpit. But new research from the University of California, Berkeley, suggests that the highly religious are less motivated by compassion when helping a stranger than are atheists, agnostics and less religious people.In three experiments, social scientists found that compassion consistently drove less religious people to be more generous. For highly religious people, however, compassion was largely unrelated to how generous they were, according to the findings which are published in the most recent online issue of the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.

The results challenge a widespread assumption that acts of generosity and charity are largely driven by feelings of empathy and compassion, researchers said. In the study, the link between compassion and generosity was found to be stronger for those who identified as being non-religious or less religious.

“Overall, we find that for less religious people, the strength of their emotional connection to another person is critical to whether they will help that person or not,” said UC Berkeley social psychologist Robb Willer, a co-author of the study. “The more religious, on the other hand, may ground their generosity less in emotion, and more in other factors such as doctrine, a communal identity, or reputational concerns.”

Read more here.

31 Comments on "Highly Religious People Are Less Motivated by Compassion Than Are Non-Believers"

  1. You have deeply offended us and our god, and our god is a god of vengeance and horror.


  2. I am deeply, deeply not surprised by this.

  3. “I hope God’s watching this” *acts good*

  4. Azathoth | May 2, 2012 at 2:22 am |

    Not really surprising, the whole doctrine rests on the threat “be kind or BURN”

    • Redacted | May 2, 2012 at 2:34 am |

      Hell is only for Satan and his lackeys. Just don’t tell a Christian that. It’s almost like they view Hell as a reward.

      Even Satan is only damned to eternal suffering until he repents.

  5.  Care needs to be taken in how ‘Highly Religious’ people are defined. There is a real difference between those who are privately religious and ‘keep their light under a bushel’ and those that are publicly loudly religious, often more driven by a chance to fiscally profit from religion rather than having anything to do with faith.
    In fact religious works specifically mention false believers and their desire to abuse religion for their own personal benefit, especially politicians.
    Honestly do you really think politicians who carry on about religion more than preachers have any real faith and that religion for those politicians is nothing more than a con to profit by.
    I can’t think of a single religious work that doesn’t demand that you actions should speak louder than you words and I can’t think of a single overtly religious politician whose actions were not exact opposite of their spoken religious tenets.

  6. Religion is merely an institutionalized suppression, and control tactic. Those who truly have the spirit of Love, compassion, and charity in their hearts, have no need for such an institution, and are not susceptible to the trappings of an “image”/ego.  

    • Guest1001101 | May 3, 2012 at 4:24 am |

      Jason is right… 

    • How nice for the non-religious to be so perfect that they have no need for an organized set of principles.  While having love and compassion is the ultimate goal, (yes, even for the religious,) principles allow an individual to render compassionate service even when he or she does not feel compassionate.  

      Principles fill the gap of human imperfection.  

  7. We atheists don’t have the budget option of praying for improvement. We actually have to spend money and energy in order to help others.

  8. Highly religious people can rationalize their way out of anything. That’s the great thing about religion- you don’t have to take responsibility for anything. If something good happens you attribute it to god liking you and if something bad happens it was the devil’s fault. 

  9. talks like these have no meaning until they separate the spiritual from the religious, those who do good regardless of believe and those who do bad but just happen to say they follow a denomination

  10. When less religious people do something good for someone else, it’s because they care about the other person. When some (most?) religious people do something good for someone else, it’s because they care about themselves, how good THEY are, and the “fact” that they’re going to heaven.

    My opinion, at least.

  11. I find it fascinating that the comments on here are based more on that of self-righteous attitudes and anti-religious bias than on logic and understanding.   

    “it did not directly examine the reasons for why highly religious people are less compelled by compassion to help others.” 
    Yes–the above quote came from the original article, not the few conveniently-chosen paragraphs shown here.  So first, there was no study as to *why.*  The theory is, however, that they “ground their generosity less in emotion” while for the less religious, the “strength of their emotional connection to another person” is how generosity is determined. The study doesn’t say that highly religious people lack compassion or love for others.  It just means they act according to principles first. 

    Second, any group of people, religious or non-religious, that live by a predetermined, organized set of principles will always act according to those principles first before compassion.  It doesn’t mean they lack compassion, it simply means they do what they believe to be right according to their principles (which may often be rooted in compassion) even when they may lack compassion themselves.  

    You can see how this, in many ways, would be superior: Compassion, being an emotion, is subject to the flaws of the individual.  It is not always easy to be compassionate, even when it is needed or warranted.  Having a set of principles allows a person to act according to what they think is right, even when it may be difficult to do so.

    But way to be open-minded everyone.  Such broad thinking and understanding of one’s fellow man makes me really want to be an atheist.

    • Redacted | May 3, 2012 at 2:49 am |

      Shut up you self righteous asshole.

    • Really, no one cares if you “want” to be an atheist, you either are or you arn’t really.  You won’t get assholes knocking on your door on Saturday morning trying to hand you pamphlets and asking if you’ve heard the words of Jesus.

      Also, you forget one thing, that compassion based on “religious principles” as you say, isn’t free. It usually comes with a sermon, judgement of your own beliefs and an attempt to convert. There are plenty of cases of charity being withheld because churches don’t “approve” of the lifestyles of those in need.

      My take is this.  Who is the more compassionate or alturistic? The man who helps another with no thought of how it affects him? Or the man who helps because of spiritual rewards or threats of eternal torture in hell for non-compliance?

      • I have no issue with someone knocking on my door on a Saturday morning asking me if I want to hear about their religious or philosophical beliefs.  I certainly don’t think them “assholes” just because I disagree with them.  I respect them for their willingness to act on their beliefs.  How many people are so willing in a world filled with hypocrites?  It’s sad that you would think that about other human beings simply because they are religious.  

        Your perception of religion is based on cynicism rather than fact.  You take one set of religious beliefs an apply it to the whole.  I’ve met plenty of religious people that perform acts of service without any kind of attempt at conversion.  And even if it did include one, what is the motive?  Most religious people will share it with you because they believe it will make you happy as it has made them happy.  Maybe you disagree, but should you really be so intolerant simply because they try?

        You appear to believe that religious people don’t ever act out of compassion.  That’s not what this study says nor is it even remotely true.  Religious people act both out of duty and of compassion.  Because of that, I’d say that the most compassionate people I know are religious.  Nearly every act of service performed out of duty is followed by an increased amount of love and compassion for the individual served.  That’s something missed by those who have no sense of duty.

        • Good that you have no issue with it, for me it’s a massive problem.  When I’m trying to rest on my only day off, the last thing I want to do is wake up at 8am, to answer the door, and get a fucking sermon.  Honestly, it should be illegal. Worse than telemarketers in my mind.  I wish there was a national “Do Not Preach To” list I could sign up for.

          They are assholes for knocking on my door, not because of their beliefs. Although, in the case of the Mormons and the Jehovah’s their belief is they should be knocking on my door….so maybe they are assholes because of that..

          “Your perception of religion is based on cynicism rather than fact.”

          Nope, purely fact thanks. Go do some research on Mother Theresa, the paragon of Christian charity and then tell me I’m off base. Besides the world would be a better place if more people were cynical of religion, then maybe they wouldn’t believe such ridiculous things with no basis in reason or reality and then try to inflict others with it.

          • Fact?  No.  Fact comes through a formation of a hypothesis and extensive, repetitive scientific testing.  I have no doubt whatsoever that you’ve not managed to get any further than a hypothesis.  Your opinion of religion and the religious is merely opinion, and nothing more.

            What’s more, it’s clear that you attempt to lift yourself up by claiming intellectual and moral superiority to those you disagree with.  I’ve come across some religious and political individuals who do the same.  In other words: you are no better than those with whom you disagree.  

            Such intellectual dishonesty only perpetuates a false perception and opinion of one’s fellow man.  You think you’re better?  I don’t.  It’s ideas and attitudes like yours that make life infinitely more unfriendly, unkind, and difficult for others.

            Compassion indeed.

          • You assume a lot of someone you’ve never met and don’t know at all.  Thanks for your pseudo intellectual definition of what a “fact” is. Funny your whole post smacks of exactly what you are accusing me of.

            Btw, you copy and pasted the the definition of scientific method, not the definition of a fact.

            Here let me Google that for you so you won’t get it mixed up next time.


            I’d like to see the formation of the hypothesis and extensive scientific testing one has to go through to prove the fact that Paris is the capital of France. Or the fact that Monday always comes before Tuesday.

            I just see a lot of fallacy and ad homenim bullshit here.  You’re really not fooling anyone.

          • I can easily say that it isn’t fact, because what you’re saying is subject to interpretation and perception.  It’s called a “subjective opinion.”  You want it to be fact because it would validate your opinion, not because it’s actually fact.  Whether or not Paris is the capitol of France isn’t subjective–it just is.

            I haven’t once claimed to be better than anyone else.  You, however, have.  In fact, this article is a manipulation of the original study, and was written specifically to say that non-religious people are better in one way or another than religious people, when the original study says no such thing.  Yet here are a bunch of self-righteous atheists who jump on it without reading the actual study and claim it as proof that they are better than religious people.  It’s inaccurate, self-righteous and intellectually dishonest.

          • “Whether or not Paris is the capitol of France isn’t subjective–it just is.”

            Yes, that’s why it’s called a “fact”.  You are really reaching now.

            Quote the part in my comments where I claimed to be better than anyone. You are blatantly making shit up. From your first post you have been toting this atheists are self-righteous line and you keep trying to bait to prove it.

            If you are referring to my Mother Teresa statement, really.go look up the strings that were attached to her “charity”. Before you cry foul, go do some reading.

            You just don’t like the fact that people are starting to openly question the whole racket that is organized religion and people such as yourself really don’t like it.

            Articles like this are just poking holes in the myths of the benefits of religion, no one is claiming to be superior.  They are just refuting the claims of superiority and self-righteous dogma that the church has been propagating for  centuries.

  12. Ah the Good Samaritan strikes again after all these years. Nothing has changed.

  13. May I suggest a  further resource to learn more about empathy and compassion. 
    The Center for Building a Culture of Empathy
    The Culture of Empathy website is the largest internet portal for resources and information about the values of empathy and compassion. It contains articles, conferences, definitions, experts, history, interviews,  videos, science and much more about empathy and compassion.

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