Suggesting people use ‘heart, not brain’ boosts prosocial behavior, study finds

(ORDO NEWS) — Prosocial behavior, or “voluntary behavior designed to benefit another person,” is social behavior that “benefits other people or society as a whole.” An example of prosocial behavior is helping, sharing, giving, cooperating, and volunteering.

A recent study examined the effects of rational (“brain”) and affective (“heart”) decision making, as well as individual differences in information processing styles, on prosocial behavior and found that affective decision making increased prosocial behavior.

Processing style (i.e., intuitive and deliberate processing) did not predict prosocial behavior and did not interact with decision-making style. This study was published in the journal Judgment and Decision Making.

According to the social heuristic hypothesis, intuition promotes cooperation. This hypothesis suggests that intuitive response in social dilemmas is associated with prosocial behavior, while deliberation is associated with vested interests. However, the empirical evidence is mixed.

Teaching people to rely on affect or reason proved effective in changing cooperative behavior in social dilemmas, while time pressure and cognitive load did not affect prosocial behavior. In addition, there are individual differences in how much people prefer to rely on intuition and deliberation when making decisions.

In this paper, Manya Gärtner and colleagues propose “an experimental test of how decision making and individual differences in information processing styles combine to influence prosocial behavior in a range of stimulated social dilemmas using a large, diverse sample of the Swedish population.”

This study included a total of 1828 participants who were representative of the Swedish population in terms of socio-demographic characteristics (eg, age, gender, geographic regions). Participants were randomly assigned to one of three groups: a baseline (or control) group and two treatment groups, which instructed participants to make decisions based on affect or reason.

For example, under conditions of affect, participants were instructed, “For this part of the experiment, please make decisions based on your heart, not your brain.” And vice versa, for the condition “mind”. Participants in the control group received no instructions.

Four checkpoints assessed how much participants felt that “they rely on deliberation, intuition, and emotion, and how much instruction made them think more about their decisions.”

Participants also responded to the jelly bean task, which had previously been associated with a deliberate and intuitive processing style. It involves making a hypothetical decision between a large bowl containing 100 jelly beans and a small bowl containing 10 jelly beans.

Participants are asked to imagine that they can pull one gummy out from behind a screen. Both bowls are depicted graphically with the inscription below the large bowl: “9% colored jelly beans” and below the small bowl: “10% colored jelly beans”.

The rational choice is to take from the small bowl, as it contains a higher percentage of colored jelly beans, and the intuitive choice is to take from the large bowl, since it contains a higher percentage of colored jelly beans.

Prosocial behavior was measured using a series of randomly presented reward choices, including cooperation in the Prisoner’s Dilemma game and the Public Goods game, trust and reliability in the Trust game, gifting in the Dictator game with another person, and gifting in game “Dictator” with a charitable organization.

Gaertner and colleagues found the positive effect of inciting affect (rather than reason) by directly manipulating prosocial behavior instructions in the Prisoner’s Dilemma game, the trust game, the Dictator game, and charity.

The authors write that “the negative effect of mind inducing on prosocial behavior accounts for a greater proportion of the overall effect of distinguishing between affect and reason than does the positive effect of emotion inducing.”

They also note that they should have found an interaction between mode of decision-making and individual differences if those who rely on intuition responded differently to instructions to affect and reason than those who rely on deliberation.

Prosocial behavior is the key to solving numerous problems around the world, including poverty, health, environmental conservation and the distribution of scarce resources.

The authors conclude: “Understanding the mechanism that determines prosocial behavior is a central challenge. Here we demonstrate that induced affective mode of decision making, but not individual differences in affect processing style, can increase prosocial behavior.”

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