SPI Working Paper Series

WP #: 117

Date: Dec 2014

Pursuing Charity Goals with Others: Motivation Resulting from Things Done Versus Things Left Undone

     This paper was published in Journal of Experimental Psychology: General in 2013

    Ayelet Fishbach, Marlone D. Anderson, Minjung Koo

    University of Chicago
    University of Texas at Austin
    Sungkyunkwan University

This article addresses what factors best motivate individuals to work toward shared goals. We propose that when individuals do not identify highly with a group, their contributions will mimic others’: An emphasis on things done will increase their contributions toward achieving a goal, because such emphasis suggests the goal is worth pursuing. Conversely, we propose that when individuals identify highly with a group, their contributions will compensate for others’: An emphasis on things left undone will increase their own contributions, because missing contributions suggest insufficient progress toward a goal they already consider worthwhile. Five studies lend support to these predictions by measuring contributions to goals centered on idea generation and helping victims of various global disasters (earthquake in Haiti, wildfires in Southern California, rioting in Kenya).

SPI Quick Look:
What factors motivate a group of people to work hard toward a shared goal? Is it more motivating for the group to stress what has already been achieved, or to underline what still needs to be done? This paper shows that emphasizing things left undone increases individual contributions in a cohesive group. This is because group members, who already strongly identify with the cause, will compensate for others’.