Atheists, agnostics kinder than religious people

May 1st, 2012 - 6:54 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, May 1 (IANS) When it comes to kindness or helping a stranger, atheists and agnostics fare much better than their highly religious counterparts.

The findings challenge a widespread assumption that acts of generosity and charity are largely the outcome of religious sentiments.

In three experiments, social scientists from the University of California, Berkeley, found that compassion consistently drove less religious people to be more generous, the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science reports.

Researchers found the link between compassion and generosity to be stronger among those identified as being non-religious or less religious, according to a Berkeley statement.

Compassion is defined as an emotion felt when people see the suffering of others which then motivates them to help, often at a personal risk or cost.

“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,” said Berkeley social psychologist Robb Willer, study co-author.

“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,” added Willer.

Laura Saslow, who conducted the research as a doctoral student at Berkeley, but is now with University of California, San Francisco, said she was inspired to examine this question after an altruistic, non religious friend lamented that he had only donated to earthquake recovery efforts in Haiti after watching an emotionally stirring video of a woman being saved from the rubble, not because of a logical understanding that help was needed.

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