New scientific research suggests that atheists are more driven by compassion to be generous than people who have strongly-held religious beliefs.
Published in the Social Psychological and Personality Science journal, the study consisted of three separate experiments, each looking for pro-social sentiments in the subjects:
In the first experiment, 1,300 American adults' responses to a 2004 national survey were analysed to see if there was a relationship between compassion and religiosity. Statements like 'when I see someone being taken advantage of, I feel kind of protective towards them' were used to establish this link. When compared with the subjects' responses to questions about how strongly religious they were, the results were revealing. Non-religious people had higher scores showing that they were more inclined to show generosity in random acts of kindness, such as lending their possessions and offering a seat on a crowded bus or train. Religious people also had lower scores when it came to seeing how much compassion motivated participants to be charitable in other ways, such as in giving money or food to a homeless person and to non-believers.
* Non-Believers Giving Aid
* Clean water
* Project Seahorse
In the second experiment, 101 American adults watched one of two short videos: one was a neutral video and the other one was a heartrending video that showed images of poverty-stricken children. The subjects were then each given $10 and directed to give any amount they wished to a stranger. Again, the less religious subjects scored highest in the compassion stakes, since they seemed to be motivated by the emotionally-charged video to give more of their money to the stranger in question. Professor Robb Willer said, to quote: 'The compassion-inducing video had a big effect on their [the less religious people's] generosity, but it did not significantly change the generosity of more religious participants.'
In the third experiment , over 200 college students were asked to state how compassionate they felt at that moment, before playing 'economic trust games', where they were given money which they could choose to share, or not to share, with a stranger. They were told that another person playing the game had given a portion of their money to them, and they were free to reward them by giving back some of the money, which had since been doubled in amount. The religious subjects were less likely than the non-religious ones to show compassion, being more resistant to share their winnings with strangers.
These 3 experiments suggest that the pro-sociality of less religious individuals is driven to a greater extent by levels of compassion than is the pro-sociality of the more religious.
The study looked at the link between religion, compassion and generosity. It did not, however, look at the reasons why highly-religious people are less motivated by compassion to help others.
The researchers stated, however, that deeply-religious people might be more strongly guided by a sense of moral obligation than non-religious people.
Social Psychological and Personality Science, 1948550612444137, first published on April 26, 2012 By Laura R. Saslow, Robb Willer, Matthew Feinberg, Paul K. Piff, Katharine Clark, Dacher Keltner and Sarina R. Saturn: