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Impediments to Effective Altruism: The Role of Subjective Preferences in Charitable Giving

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Document pages: 28 pages

Abstract: Charity could do the most good if every dollar donated went to causes that produced the greatest welfare gains. In line with this proposition, the “Effective Altruism” movement seeks to provide individuals with information regarding the effectiveness of charities in hopes that they will donate to organizations that maximize the social return of their donation. This paper investigates the extent to which presenting effectiveness information leads people to choose more effective charities. Across 10 studies (N = 3,115), we find that even when effectiveness information is made easily comparable across options, it has a limited impact on choice. Specifically, people frequently choose less effective charity options when those options represent more subjectively preferred causes. In contrast to making a personal donation decision, outcome metrics are used to a much greater extent when choosing financial investments and when allocating aid resources as an agent of an organization. Implications are discussed.

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