Article from Empower Magazine 3
students who wrote “negative” words said they would donate an average of $5.30. The control group fell in between the two other groups, saying they would donate an average of $2.71.

The psychologists concluded that their results demonstrated a correlation between sinning and helping the community. Those who portrayed themselves as “bad people” in the moments before making the donation felt compelled to “cleanse” themselves by assisting the needy, while those who described themselves as “good people” prior to making the donation felt little or no obligation to help the community.

What are the implications of this finding? It is certainly conceivable that at least some philanthropists give in order to right their wrongs. Consider, for instance, the case of the drug lords in Colombia or Mexico who give generously to have health clinics and schools built in their villages to perhaps assuage their guilt. Giving may also be a way to “buy” respect. Yet it would be hard not to think that at least some people give unconditionally for the sheer joy of giving and helping those in need. Living as we do in a world full of need, there is little value in debating the giver’s intentions. Whether it is penance for prior sins or whether it is purely out of the goodness of heart, giving is a win-win act.

* Reported in "Sinning Saints and Saintly Sinners," S. Sachdeva, R. Iliev, L. Medin,  Psychological Science, A Journal for the Association of Psychological Science, Vol. 20--Number 4, 2009.


In the world of crime, the motives of a criminal play an important role in deciding the severity of the punishment for the crime. The analysis of the motives of a criminal helps investigators differentiate those who are likely to feel remorse and are unlikely to commit a crime again from psychopaths or sadists who are heartless killers and are likely to strike again. In the American system of law and order, a criminal’s motives weigh heavily in administering justice once DNA evidence has established who the criminal is. But how important are motives in other realms of life such as philanthropy?

A group of psychologists recently explored the motives of those who donate money to charities. In their study*, psychologists at Northwestern University worked with 46 undergraduates telling them only that they were taking a handwriting test. The students were divided into three groups. The first group wrote down “positive” words such as “caring, generous, and fair.” The second group wrote down “negative” words such as “selfish, disloyal, and greedy.” A third control group wrote down “neutral” words such as “book, keys, and house.” The students from each group were next asked to write short stories about themselves incorporating the words that they had just written down. Finally, the researchers asked the students if they would donate money (anywhere between 0 and 10 dollars) to a charity.

The students who wrote “positive” words said they would donate an average of $1.07, while the