What are the determinants of altruism? While economists assume that altruism is mainly driven by fairness norms, social psychologists consider empathy to be a key motivator for altruistic behavior. To unite these two theories, we conducted an experiment in which we compared behavior in a standard economic game that assesses altruism (the so-called Dictator Game) with a Dictator Game in which participants’ behavioral choices were preceded either by an empathy induction or by a control condition without empathy induction. The results of this within-subject manipulation show that the empathy induction substantially increased altruistic behavior. Moreover, the increase in experienced empathy predicted over 40% of the increase in sharing behavior. These data extend standard economic theories that altruism is based on fairness considerations, by showing that empathic feelings can be a key motivator for altruistic behavior in economic interactions.
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