Better together: Third party helping is enhanced when the decision to help is made jointly.
When spouses decide together how much of their joint income to donate to charity, or the parents of several children in a classroom agree to chip in for the cost of a group gift for a teacher, they are engaging in a joint act of benefiting a third party. Past work has typically conceptualized the decision to provide benefits to others as an individual one. But as these examples illustrate, the decision to engage in third-party helping is often initiated at the group level. And there are compelling reasons to expect that the helping behavior initiated jointly by multiple people will differ from that initiated by individuals, even after holding constant the costs and benefits of helping. Here I demonstrate that people provide more benefits to a third party when they must come to an agreement with another benefactor about a joint helping decision, compared to when they communicate about the decision, but then make decisions separately, or when they make helping decisions alone. I show that this is because people engage in generous "talk" in communication with other benefactors - and joint decisions, but not individual decisions, bind them to the high levels of helping that they discuss. Put differently, results show that when people make decisions individually, they give according to their individual preferences about benefiting others; when they make decisions jointly, they give according to their public statements about benefiting others, which tend to be more other-regarding. The results have important implications for understanding the mechanisms driving prosocial behavior.
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