I’m moral, But I won’t help you: The distinct roles of empathy and justice in donations

Saerom Lee, Karen Page Winterich, William T. Ross

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

132 Citations (SciVal)


Donating to charitable causes is generally perceived as a moral, prosocial behavior, but this may not always be the case. Although moral identity tends to have a positive effect on prosocial behavior, moral identity does not unconditionally enhance charitable giving. Four studies demonstrate that moral identity decreases donations when recipients are responsible for their plight. Mediation analysis reveals that empathy and justice underlie these effects such that moral identity increases donations for recipients with low plight responsibility through increased empathy, but moral identity decreases donations to recipients with high plight responsibility due to perceptions of justice. Importantly, donations to recipients who are responsible for their plight can be enhanced when donors’ immorality is made salient, evoking empathy for recipients, particularly among donors with high moral identity. This research makes theoretical contributions in addition to providing implications for nonprofit organizations whose recipients may be perceived as responsible for their plight.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)678-696
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Consumer Research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Oct 1 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Business and International Management
  • Anthropology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Marketing


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