In three experiments, social scientists from the University of California, Berkeley, found that compassion consistently drove less religious people to be more generous.
The study found
“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.”
Researchers analyzed data from a 2004 national survey of more than 1,300 American adults in which they were asked to agree or disagree with the following statement, “When I see someone being taken advantage of, I feel kind of protective towards them.”
In another experiment, 101 American adults were asked to watch one of two videos. One video was neutral, the second portrayed children living in poverty. After being given ten “lab dollars,” they were told to give any amount to a total stranger.
The last experiment asked 200+ college students “to report how compassionate they felt at that moment. They then played “economic trust games”. They were given money to share with a stranger. In one round, they were told that another person playing the game had given a portion of their money to them, and that they were free to reward the other by giving back some of the money, which had since doubled in amount. Those who scored low on the religiosity scale, and high on momentary compassion, were more inclined to share their winnings with strangers than other participants in the study.”
Robb Willer, a UC Berkeley social psychologist and co-author of the study, said -
that people who are more religious “ground their generosity less in emotion, and more in other factors such as doctrine, a communal identity, or reputational concerns.” And for less religious people, “the strength of their emotional connection to another person is critical to whether they will help that person or not.”