International Development, Community, and Environment

Title

The Emotional Motivation of Righteous Behavior

Document Type

Article

Abstract

A distinction is made between two types of prosocial behavior: personal-helping and righteous behavior. Past studies suggest that sympathy may motivate personal helping but not righteous behavior. The latter may be better predicted by feelings of moral outrage and existential guilt. An experiment was designed to motivate a piece of righteous behavior, the writing of a political letter to stop the testing of nuclear weapons. A series of premeasures ascertained strength of attitude, sense of efficacy, acceptance of responsibility, and prior antinuclear behavior. Subjects who supported a nuclear freeze were exposed to material advocating a nuclear test ban, a video of a congressional aide who argued for the efficacy of writing letters to congressional representatives, and emotionally arousing material on the bombing of Hiroshima. After answering a questionnaire that included items to measure emotional state, subjects were individually given the opportunity to write a letter as they were waiting to be interviewed. Social pressure was deliberately minimized. Extent of moral outrage predicted both previous behavior and letter-writing behavior during the experiment. It combined with previous behavior and sense of efficacy to predict 56% of the variance in experimental behavior: Neither sympathy nor existential guilt were significantly related to this righteous behavior. © 1994 Plenum Publishing Corporation.

Publication Title

Social Justice Research

Publication Date

3-1-1994

Volume

7

Issue

1

First Page

91

Last Page

106

ISSN

0885-7466

DOI

10.1007/BF02333824

Keywords

acceptance of responsibility, emotions, existential guilt, justice, moral outrage, motivation, nuclear activism, prosocial behavior, sympathy

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