Highly religious people are less motivated by compassion than atheists, agnostics and less religious people, according to a new study.
Research from University of California, Berkeley published in the most recent edition of the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science found a stronger link between compassion and generosity among non-religious or less religious people.
“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,” UC Berkeley social psychologist and study co-author Robb Willer explained. “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.”
Lead author Laura Saslow recalled she became interested in the topic after an atheist friend said he had only donated money for earthquake relief in Haiti after watching a touching video of a woman being pulled from the rubble.
“I was interested to find that this experience – an atheist being strongly influenced by his emotions to show generosity to strangers – was replicated in three large, systematic studies,” she noted.
In one experiment, researchers analyzed a 2004 survey of 1,300 American adults to find that non-believers and the less religious were more likely to participate in random acts of kindness like giving food or money to a homeless person.
“These findings indicate that although compassion is associated with pro-sociality among both less religious and more religious individuals, this relationship is particularly robust for less religious individuals,” the study said.
Two other experiments also confirmed that more religious participants seemed to be less generous.
“Overall, this research suggests that although less religious people tend to be less trusted in the U.S., when feeling compassionate, they may actually be more inclined to help their fellow citizens than more religious people,” Willer concluded.