Atheists and agnostics are more driven by compassion to help others than are highly religious people, a new study finds.
That doesn’t mean highly religious peopledon’t give, according to the research to be published in the July 2012 issue of the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science. But compassion seems to drive religious people’s charitable feelings less than other groups.
“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,” study co-author and University of California, Berkeley social psychologist Robb Willer said in a statement. “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.”
In the first study, Saslow and her colleagues analyzed data from a national survey of more than 1,300 American adults taken in 2004. They found that compassionate attitudes were linked with how many generous behaviors a person was likely to report. But this link was strongest in people who were atheists or only slightly religious, compared with people who were more strongly religious. [8 Ways Religion Impacts Your Life]…
More research will be needed to understand what factors motivate religious people’s giving, but the study makes clear that empathy and compassion are not the only factors at play.
“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 said.