Why did these people bother to write this bit of obviousness up?
From the abstract:
Past research argues that religious commitments shape individuals’ prosocial sentiments, including their generosity and solidarity.
But what drives the prosociality of less religious people?
Three studies tested the hypothesis that, with fewer religious expectations of prosociality, less religious individuals’ levels of compassion will play a larger role in their prosocial tendencies.
In Study 1, religiosity moderated the relationship between trait compassion and prosocial behavior such that compassion was more critical to the generosity of less religious people.
In Study 2, a compassion induction increased generosity among less religious individuals but not among more religious individuals.
In Study 3, state feelings of compassion predicted increased generosity across a variety of economic tasks for less religious individuals but not among more religious individuals.
These results suggest that the prosociality of less religious individuals is driven to a greater extent by levels of compassion than is the prosociality of the more religious.
© 2012 Laura R. Saslow, Robb Willer, Matthew Feinberg, Paul K. Piff, Katharine Clark, Dacher Keltner, and Sarina R. Saturn, My Brother’s Keeper? Compassion Predicts Generosity More Among Less Religious Individuals, Social Psychological & Personality Science, doi: 10.1177/1948550612444137 (early online publication, 26 April 2012) (paragraph split)
First, we can safely assume that most people need motivation to do apparently self-sacrificing things.
When religious culture’s God/Allah/Yaweh ain’t gonna get us for being selfish, then it seems fairly obvious that compassion would be the motivating force underlying non-religious people’s generosity.
The two more interesting questions would have been —
(i) Whether religious and non-religious people vary (as groups) in their “total” generosity
(ii) To what extent their generosities differentially escalate in the face of other people’s obvious needs
In other words, does “thou shalt” make for more giving (or less giving) people than “I feel”?
The moral? — Asking uninteresting questions gets us un-illuminating answers
Of course, asking a comparatively simple and unimportant question makes research easier. Which is, I suspect, why this team came up with this arguably trivial study.
Perhaps I’m being unfair. Baseline-setting has virtues. But this attempt could certainly have gone one interesting step further than it did.