Antecedents of helping: Social descriptive norms and empathy as drivers of monetary donations

Siugmin Lay

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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In literature, feelings of empathy and perceived social norms have been related to intentions to donate. People are more likely to donate and help others when they empathise with them, as well as when they perceive social descriptive norms that support and encourage helping. However, previous work has not considered empathy and perceived social descriptive norms jointly as antecedents of disposition to help. Across seven studies with diverse samples, I assessed the interplay between empathy and perceived social descriptive norms as predictors of disposition to donate. Studies 1 (N = 1300), 2 (N = 144), and 4 (N = 449) were correlational studies, while Studies 3 (N = 209), 5 (N = 103), 6 (N = 141), and 7 (N = 407) had all experimental designs. I expected social descriptive norms and situational empathy to predict general disposition to give monetary donations, and the association of situational empathy with general disposition to give monetary donations to be weaker when social descriptive norms were high.
Mixed results were obtained, but in general, consistent with the hypotheses, across studies perceived social descriptive norms and empathy were significant positive predictors of disposition to donate. However, in the experimental studies only the norms manipulation check measure, and not the norms manipulation itself, was related to disposition to donate. Importantly, in Studies 1, 2, and 3 the association between empathy and donation disposition was markedly weaker, but still significant, when perceived social norms were high, i.e. when norms were in favour of helping.
These results suggest that it is critical to consider the normative context in which helping occurs. Perceived social descriptive norms unmistakably have an effect on behavioural choices, and they might also regulate the impact of other variables previously known to consistently predict helping.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Zagefka, Hanna, Supervisor
Award date1 Jul 2018
Publication statusUnpublished - 2018


  • Helping
  • charitable giving
  • empathy
  • Social Norms

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