Nice joyful woman giving her old coat

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LUCCA, Italy — Does your willingness to help others depend on your political leanings? New research out of Italy finds those on the right end of the political spectrum are more conservative when it comes to generosity and altruism. Researchers report left-leaning people all over the world are more inclined to be altruistic, both in general and towards the international community.

However, study authors add that conservatives can be generous at times too, but only towards those in their own country. These findings are the result of a collaborative effort spanning the IMT School for Advanced Studies Lucca, Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, and University of Milan Bicocca. This project spanned 68 countries, but researchers say this tendency remained consistent worldwide.

To research this nuanced topic, Veronica Pizziol and colleagues analyzed a dataset featuring over 46,000 participants in 68 countries, collected between April and May 2020. The original survey comes from the International Collaboration on the Social and Moral Psychology of COVID-19 (ICSMP COVID-19), which is an effort to better understand the psychological factors underlying the attitudes and behavioral intentions related to COVID.

With these survey responses, researchers aimed to investigate if and how political ideology — which presumably captures one’s beliefs and values about society — has a connection to generosity. First, to gauge political ideology, participants had to identify their political orientation on a scale from zero (very left-leaning) to 10 (very right-leaning). Next, to measure generosity, researchers judged participants’ donation decisions during a task that featured the possibility of donating to a national charity and an international one. This task included answering what percentage of a sum of money people kept for themselves, and how much they gave to a national or international charity working to protect people from COVID-19.

Consequently, study authors were able to account for and analyze three different types of generosity: national generosity, international generosity, and generosity in general.

“Analyzing the answers, we found that more left-leaning individuals are more likely to donate in general and also more likely to be generous internationally. More right-leaning people are more likely instead to donate nationally. These findings are very consistent and have been checked to exclude other factors that might have influenced the answers,” explains first author Veronica Pizziol, a PhD student in Economics at the IMT School, in a media release. “For example, since the survey was realized during the COVID-19 pandemic, right-leaning people could have shown to be less generous towards COVID-19 charities just because they were less likely to believe COVID-19 to be a big threat. But this was not the case.”

Man volunteering to feed homeless man
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The global nature of the dataset afforded researchers the unique opportunity to draw general conclusions about the relationship between political ideology and generosity, as well as use country-level factors to investigate its underlying mechanisms.

“We found that a relevant source of cross-country variation is the quality of governance as measured by the Worldwide Governance Indicator provided by the World Bank. We show that the quality of governance moderates the three correlations between political ideology and the various measures of generosity” says Roberto Di Paolo, an assistant professor at the IMT School.

In other words, the tendency to be generous with national and international communities, both among right and left-wing people, appears to be somehow related to the efficiency of governance by national institutions. More specifically, in nations with a good quality of institutions, individuals usually increase self-interest (with the change being “faster” for right-leaning individuals) and decrease national generosity (with the change being “slower” for right-leaning individuals). Conversely, right and left-leaning people adopt opposite behaviors toward an international charity when the quality of governance increases; conservatives donate less while liberals tend to donate more.

“These apparently counterintuitive results suggest that, in countries with high quality of governance, left-leaning people may shift towards different values: they can tend to embrace either universalistic or individualist values that are typically brought forward by countries with high quality of governance. Both these values put little emphasis on local boundaries. On the other hand, in countries with high quality of governance, right-leaning people may react negatively to universalist values through a cultural backlash, and therefore embrace only the individualist values.  And this is reflected on the fact that they increase only in their individualism,” comments senior author Valerio Capraro, an associate professor at University of Milan Bicocca.

In summation, study authors conclude that in our increasingly globalized world, it is vital to understand how generosity can best transcend local boundaries. This study indicates politics play a relevant role.

The findings appear in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

About John Anderer

Born blue in the face, John has been writing professionally for over a decade and covering the latest scientific research for StudyFinds since 2019. His work has been featured by Business Insider, Eat This Not That!, MSN, Ladders, and Yahoo!

Studies and abstracts can be confusing and awkwardly worded. He prides himself on making such content easy to read, understand, and apply to one’s everyday life.

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8 Comments

  1. fitzceros says:

    Conservatives often will not respond to random offers, particularly international ones, giving through tithing and additional donations for mission work internationally through their churches. They don’t like being forced fed which charity to donate to without vetting. What an odd conclusion for this study, but not surprising given the result, I’m sure, was intended at the incept. Doesn’t anyone teach logic any more?

  2. Michael Bol says:

    In other words, they get taken advantage of much easier. Want to get free housing, free food, free whatever you want (all at the cost of taxpayers) move to a left leaning state. Why do you think the top homeless populations are CA, VT, WA and OR?

  3. lend says:

    I would love to see the construction of the questions and whether they were politically worded or neutral. T o say that small town conservative America is not generous is simply false.

  4. Emory Kendrick says:

    Liberals are much more likely to be generous with other people’s money and not their own. A conservative will give a homeless guy a 10 spot…no questions, no sermon, no judgement.

    A liberal will give the homeless person the directions to a shelter and suggest they contact social services. If they do give them money, it’s with strings attached. (You aren’t going to buy wine or cigarettes, are you?)

  5. Brennan says:

    The cause they were asked to donate to is a bit skewing as well. Most conservatives I know would much rather give toward education programs and resources, and statistics have shown this in the past. This study was based on the notion that liberals are more likely to donate toward getting people vaccinated than conservatives….that bias seems a bit obvious doesn’t it?

    1. micah says:

      I was thinking the same, the bias for this study is clear. Covid-19 “help” like ventilators, remdesivr. the shot- what a bunch of self-congratulating genocidal lunatics.

  6. Chasya says:

    Why identify ‘generosity’ or ‘charitable’ only in monetary terms? It is really easy to write a check or wire money to a charitable organization anywhere in the world. What about actually using your own time and physical effort to help another person? When that type of charitable donation is measured, I think you’ll find that left-leaning people are more than willing to march, demonstrate, and donate impersonal dollars to a cause than to get their hands dirty doing the work of these organizations. As another reader mentioned, small town America sees lots of charity – person to person, caring, boots on the ground type of charity. Most of that would probably be faith-based or tied to a specific community. For a conservative, charity is real world, not just theoretical. I think it was Graham Greene who described one of his characters as someone who loved humanity but hated the individual man. Sounds about right.

  7. Peen. says:

    Look at how the Liberals in Martha’s Vineyard took in those migrants