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The Home of Evolutioneers

Americans practice what they are preached

The study asked about 15 different acts of altruism, including talking with someone who is depressed, helping with housework, giving up a seat to a stranger, giving money to a charity, volunteering, helping someone find a job, or helping in another way, such as lending money. The connection between religious observance and charitable behavior was consistent across religious groups in the study, "Altruism in Contemporary America: A Report from the National Altruism Study".

Before he began the survey, author Tom Smith, Director of the General Social Survey at NORC, expected to find that people who are more socially involved, as well as those who support spending on social welfare programs, would be more likely than others to be altruistic. Those attitudes made little difference, however, in predicting who would be more charitable.

There also were no major demographic differences. The study disputes the idea that people in small towns are more likely than people in big cities to perform acts of kindness. The size of a person’s community had no relationship with the number of times a person acted in kindness.

The report found that acts of kindness consistently increased with the number of times people attended religious services. Other measures on the survey also underlined the role of religion in promoting altruism. People with strong religious faith and who prayed daily were more likely to help others.

On many attitudes and values the General Social Survey shows little difference in the views of men and women. However, the altruism research showed a large difference between men and women on questions related to empathy, with women being much more empathetic. For example, while 46 percent of the women surveyed reported feeling disturbed by other people’s misfortunes, only 25 percent of the men shared that perspective, Smith found.

The altruism questions were asked of 1,366 people.

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