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J Exp Psychol Gen. 2016 Oct;145(10):1351-1358. Epub 2016 Aug 11.

A general benevolence dimension that links neural, psychological, economic, and life-span data on altruistic tendencies.

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1
Department of Psychology, University of Oregon.
2
Department of Economics, University of Oregon.
3
Department of Mathematical Sciences, DePaul University.

Abstract

[Correction Notice: An Erratum for this article was reported in Vol 145(10) of Journal of Experimental Psychology: General (see record 2016-46925-004). In the article, there was an error in the Task, Stimuli, and Procedures section. In the 1st sentence in the 6th paragraph, “Following the scanning phase, participants completed self-report questionnaires meant to reflected the Prosocial Disposition construct: the agreeableness scale from the Big F, which includes empathic concern and perspective-taking, and a scale of personality descriptive adjectives related to altruistic behavior (Wood, Nye, & Saucier, 2010).” should have read: “Following the scanning phase, participants completed self-report questionnaires that contained scales to reflect the Prosocial Disposition construct: the Big Five Inventory (BFI; John et al., 1991), from which we used the agreeableness scale to measure prosocial disposition; the Interpersonal Reactivity Index (IRI; Davis, 1980), from which we used the empathic concern and perspective-taking scales; and a scale of personality descriptive adjectives related to altruistic behavior (Wood, Nye, & Saucier, 2010).”] Individual and life span differences in charitable giving are an important economic force, yet the underlying motives are not well understood. In an adult, life span sample, we assessed manifestations of prosocial tendencies across 3 different measurement domains: (a) psychological self-report measures, (b) actual giving choices, and (c) fMRI-derived, neural indicators of “pure altruism.” The latter expressed individuals’ activity in neural valuation areas when charities received money compared to when oneself received money and thus reflected an altruistic concern for others. Results based both on structural equation modeling and unit-weighted aggregate scores revealed a strong higher-order General Benevolence dimension that accounted for variability across all measurement domains. The fact that the neural measures likely reflect pure altruistic tendencies indicates that General Benevolence is based on a genuine concern for others. Furthermore, General Benevolence exhibited a robust increase across the adult life span, potentially providing an explanation for why older adults typically contribute more to the public good than young adults.

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