Direct and Indirect Prosociality Dataset

Published: 10-07-2018| Version 2 | DOI: 10.17632/hm6pkpxxr8.2
Nan Zhu,
Skyler Hawk,
Lei Chang


The causes of people’s engagement in costly, prosocial behaviors are an intriguing issue in both evolutionary biology and moral psychology. An equally important question is why individuals display prosocial behaviors in some, but not all, circumstances. To address these questions, we distinguished between direct and indirect prosocial behaviors, based on the directness of their effects on others’ well-being. We argue that these types of prosocial behavior involve different costs and thinking processes, and are differentially influenced by environmental conditions. In four studies, we tested predictions derived from a qualitative model explicating the influences of environmental unpredictability and competition on prosocial behaviors. In Studies 1 and 2, we primed participants with unpredictability and/or competition and examined the directness of prosocial thinking and spontaneous prosocial behaviors. In Studies 3 and 4, we examined experimentally manipulated environmental influences on direct and indirect prosociality, as distinguished by different thinking styles. Results across all studies showed that unpredictability generally undermined prosociality. Although competition promoted indirect prosociality, it undermined direct prosociality when combined with unpredictability. Additionally, indirect prosocial thinking was negatively related to prosociality in unpredictable situations. In sum, we argue that humans might have evolved different thinking processes to deal with prosocial considerations within direct or indirect reciprocal systems, and these processes are sensitive to environmental conditions in different ways.