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Psychol Sci. 2012 Aug 1;23(8):923-30. doi: 10.1177/0956797612437248. Epub 2012 Jul 3.

Investing in karma: when wanting promotes helping.

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Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, University of Virginia, Charlottesville 22904, USA.


People often face outcomes of important events that are beyond their personal control, such as when they wait for an acceptance letter, job offer, or medical test results. We suggest that when wanting and uncertainty are high and personal control is lacking, people may be more likely to help others, as if they can encourage fate's favor by doing good deeds proactively. Four experiments support this karmic-investment hypothesis. When people want an outcome over which they have little control, their donations of time and money increase (experiments 1 and 2), but their participation in other rewarding activities does not (experiment 1b). In addition, at a job fair, job seekers who feel the process is outside (vs. within) their control make more generous pledges to charities (experiment 3). Finally, karmic investments increase optimism about a desired outcome (experiment 4). We conclude by discussing the role of personal control and magical beliefs in this phenomenon.

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