Bioethics Blogs

‘Competitive Altruism’ – Why attractive women are the most successful fundraisers

Why do humans help others even when it is costly and nothing is to be expected in return? This question has not only developed into a classic in different empirical disciplines, but is also of high interest for fundraisers like charities who would like to know how to increase donations.

A study recently publish in Current Biology gives interesting real-life evidence for why people help that might sound like a paradox at first: ‘competitive altruism’.

The authors looked at 2,561 fundraising webpages from the 2014 London Marathon. First, they had the physical attractiveness of the individual fundraisers (i.e. amateurs running for charity causes) rated by over 1,000 independent judges, based on the photo the runners posted online. Then, they looked at the donations these fundraisers got, using the information publicly visible on their webpages, including the gender of each individual donors and how much they had given.

The authors found that previous donations to the respective fundraiser influenced how much a donor decided to give: a large previous donation (defined as double the mean donation on the webpage and at least £50) increased subsequent donations by £10 on average. More strikingly, there was evidence for what the authors call ‘competitive helping’: when the fundraiser was a woman who had been rated as attractive (in the top 25% of all women rated), male donors gave a lot more in response to a large donation given by another men: on average additional £28. In other words, the increase in donations following a large donation was four times greater in men who responded to a large donation made by another man to an attractive woman.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.