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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Moral uncertainty promotes prosocial behavior : exploring the self-signaling motivation for prosocial behavior Chin, Jason M.


Self-signaling theory posits that individuals engage in prosocial behavior in order to gain positive information about the self. Previous self-regulatory approaches to prosocial behavior have primarily focused on helping as means to self-repair (e.g., the negative state relief model), or as a means to stay self-consistent (e.g., self-verification theory), thus overlooking the motivation to obtain self-knowledge. Four studies tested a key prediction of self-signaling theory, that uncertainty about the self as a good and moral person should increase prosocial behavior, while certainty should decrease it. Study one used a correlational design to examine the relationship between personal uncertainty and volunteerism. Study two manipulated uncertainty about a positive moral characteristic and measured subsequent agreement to help. Study three examined the effect of uncertainty about a negative moral trait on helping behavior. Finally, study four manipulated both uncertainty, and the valence of self-information, while measuring charitable donations. All four studies find the hypothesized positive relationship between uncertainty and prosocial behavior. These findings support the idea that individuals help in order to gain information indicating they are good and virtuous, thus decreasing uncertainty about the self. Limitations, implications, and future directions are discussed.

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