Out of Control Donation Play

The Stones get us Out Of Control, longing for something we don’t have and something we cannot produce on our own. Contemplate your own desire without control as you listen to the Stones, live or studio (YouTube).

Take that impulse to the lab. Run a couple of experiments that start like this.

Participants in the wanting condition read: “People are often waiting to learn the unknown outcome of some important event in their lives—for example, scores on an important test, decisions from a job interview, or results of a medical procedure.” They were asked to describe a personally relevant, ongoing event, the desired outcome, and the outcome’s importance. Participants in the routine condition described one of their daily routines.

Not as dramatic at Mick and Keith and Ronnie and Charlie, but still that loss of control for something you want. Manipulate the Other Guy to re-live an Out of Control moment or just a day in the life (but that’s another song from another band!).

Now, here’s the persuasion twist. Give all these Other Guys a chance to make a charitable contribution in the two experiments. When you are Out of Control waiting for what you cannot change, do you give or hold?

A chi-square test supported our prediction that wanting would increase helping rates, χ2(1, N = 95) = 4.90, p = .027, phi = .23 (Fig. 1). Participants in the wanting condition were more likely to volunteer (94%) than were participants in the routine condition (78%) . . . As expected, participation rates to help a charity were higher in the wanting condition (86%) than in the routine condition (59%), χ2(1, N = 48) = 4.00, p = .045, phi = .29.

Those phi effect sizes are Medium Windowpanes, about a 35/65 effect, so they are practical, observable, clinically significant as the folks in the lab coats say. Priming up concerns over desired outcomes you do not control leads the Other Guy to donate more, and obviously so.

Now, the researchers conduct two additional experiments to test their particular theory development (and if you’re into Karma, I’d encourage you to read the paper), but I want to stay with just these two persuasive experiments. When people experience a desired outcome they cannot control, they are more willing to help other people. The range of “control” extends across a range of outcomes whether awaiting results for a medical test to competing against hundreds of others for one job. When other forces determine an outcome you desire, you are in the Out of Control box.

When you follow with a simple offer or request to Other Guys in this box, They are more likely to comply. The researchers demonstrate this with money, but I suspect a wide range of prosocial chits would work here – time, effort, petition signing, giving up your seat, whatever. Money provides a very nice dependent variable that is easy to trade, count, and compare, but I don’t think the Out of Control box works only with cash. Catch the dominating presence of that prosocial context and impulse. You can help someone else.

And, you see the Peripheral Route effect here. You’re feeling out of control for something you want and when you encounter someone else who wants something and appears to be Out of Control, you help. It’s a sympathetic Comparison Cue, If Other People Are Out Of Control (Like You), Help Them. No one takes the time and energy in these experiments to go all High WATT and search and scrutinize all the Arguments for and against donation. They just Cue from themselves.

Of course, this leads to an ethical challenge that only highlights my claim that persuasion has no values. Hey. Want more charitable contributions from Other Guys? Make Them feel Out of Control! Doesn’t that make you a great guy, helping that charity by making Other Guys feel trapped, anxious, and needful of divine intervention?

Hey. It works. Think of all those desperate people in dire straits. Hey. This is prosocial, baby. You’re making the world a better place!

Benjamin A. Converse, Jane L. Risen, and Travis J. Carter. (2012). Investing in Karma: When Wanting Promotes Helping Psychological Science, first published on July 3, 2012


P.S. This research also sheds some light on why people with the least may give more compared to people with most. When you live in Hard Times, you are probably In and Out of Control more often.

P.P.S. Here’s the other song from the other band (YouTube) . . . and though the news was rather sad.