The effect of perceived financial vulnerability on prosocial activity

Marina Motsenok, Ilana Ritov

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Our research examines the effect of subjective financial vulnerability on prosocial activity. First, data from the European Survey of Health, Aging and Retirement (SHARE) revealed that higher assessment of one's financial vulnerability might be associated with prosocial motivation for social activities. Next, we manipulated participants' perception of their relative financial position compared to their peers and found that participants randomly assigned to the low financial position condition were more willing to volunteer than participants assigned to the high financial position condition. In Study 3, we manipulated participants' financial advantage. Participants who were disadvantaged in the experimental settings were more willing to volunteer and donate to charity compared to participants with financial advantage. In our final study, we examined willingness to donate to in-group and out-group help organizations and found that individuals of lower perceived financial standing may be motivated by the goal of increasing the strength of the social group, rather than by expectations of direct reciprocity. We also found that emotional distress mediates the relationship between perceived financial vulnerability and prosocial behavior. In line with earlier research illustrating that lower financial status promotes prosociality on an interpersonal level, we demonstrate that even momentary perception of relative financial disadvantage and vulnerability promotes prosociality in the broader social context.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)35-46
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Behavioral Decision Making
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2021


  • altruism
  • donation
  • financial disadvantage
  • financial vulnerability
  • motivation
  • prosocial behavior
  • status
  • volunteering

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Decision Sciences
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Applied Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Strategy and Management


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