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EMAC 2020 Annual Conference

I am too good to be true: how self-enhancement motivations shape prosocial behavior of entitled individuals

Published: May 27, 2020


Alexandra Polyakova, University of Sussex


prosocial _behavior; entitlement; status_seeking


In the past decade the level of prosocial behavior has raised some concerns. At the same time, a meta- analysis showed that empathic concern, which is considered to be one of the main predictors of prosocial behavior, decreased between 1979 and 2009 (Konrath et al. 2011). Lack of empathy and less forgiving attitudes are one of the main characteristics of entitlement (Exline & Zell, 2009). Entitlement is defined as the feeling of deserving more than others and is negative related to pro-social behavior (Campbell et al., 2004). We suggest that entitled individuals would engage in prosocial behavior more when there is an opportunity to self-enhance compared to when there is no opportunity to self-enhance. Since prosocial behavior is performed to benefit others rather than self (Twenge et al., 2007), in this case, entitled individuals would be unlikely to behave in such a way unless they see a clear opportunity to benefit themselves in such a situation. H1: Entitled individuals will exhibit more prosocial behavior when such behavior provides an opportunity for self-enhancement (vs. when there is no opportunity for self-enhancement). Other research demonstrates that individuals act more prosocially in the public sphere than in private settings (Ariely et al., 2009). Since one of the main motivations of entitled individuals is to appear in a positive light in front of others and themselves, they would be even more inclined than other individuals to engage in prosocial behavior when such behavior is observable by others (i.e., public context) rather than when there are no witnesses (vs. private context): H2: Entitled individuals will exhibit more prosocial behavior when such behavior is performed in a public (vs. private) context. Previous research has demonstrated that entitled individuals are driven by a desire to attain status (Lange et al., 2019). Higher social status fulfills the desires of entitled individuals. Entitlement is correlated with the desire to have high-status symbols, such as a perfect romantic partner (Campbell, 1999). We propose that entitled individuals will be attracted by other possibilities that allow them to feel they belong to a small group of high status people H3: Entitled individuals will exhibit greater intention to donate to a charity cause/organization when the social status of other donors is high (vs. low). We test our predictions in three studies. We both manipulate (Studies 1 & 2; Lange et al., 2019) and measure entitlement (Study 3). Study 1. 140 US-based MTurk participants completed the study online. This study used a 2 (entitlement: yes vs. no) x 2 (self-enhancement opportunity: yes vs. no) between-subjects design. We adopted entitlement manipulation from Poon et al. (2013). Participants in the self-enhancement condition were told that they could make a donation that would highlight their unique personality: a donation in honor of their friends. Participants in the no_self-enhancement condition were told that their donation would help people in need. Finally, participants indicated their likelihood to donate a portion of the money they would earn through MTurk to the charity. ANOVA results revealed no significant main effects, but revealed a significant interaction of entitlement and self-enhancement on the likelihood to donate (F(1, 136) = 10.84, p = .001). In the self-enhancement condition, participants were more likely to donate when they were in the entitlement (vs. no_entitlement) condition, Mentitlement = 3.31, SD = 1.92 vs. Mno_entitlement = 2.18, SD = 1.64, F(1, 136) = 6.73, p < .05. We suggest that another way of increasing the amount of donations from entitled individuals is to give them a chance to make a donation in a public (vs. private) context, which was tested in Study 2. 116 MTurk US-based participants completed the study online. Study 2 had a 2 (entitlement: yes, no) x 2 (donation context: public, private) between-subjects design. We adopted a donation campaign scenario from Lee & Shrum (2012) and assigned participants to public vs. private conditions. Finally, participants then indicated their likelihood to donate to support the charity. Study 2 results showed that there was no main effect of either the entitlement (p = .73) or the donation context (p = .33). Participants in the entitlement public condition were more likely to make a donation (Mpublic = 4.03, SD = 2.00 vs. Mprivate = 2.89, SD = 1.71, F(1,112) = 4.41, p <.05. Study 3. 120 US-based adults from Amazon MTurk participated in the study. First, we measured participants’ level of entitlement (PES, ? = .94). Next, participants were randomly assigned to one of two conditions (other donors’ status: high vs. low). Participants read a donation appeal describing a charity that raises funds to fight a fictitious disease. Participants in the other donors’ status: high condition read that this foundation was previously supported by Leonardo DiCaprio and Taylor Swift, whereas participants in the other donors’ status: low condition read that micro-bloggers as Emily Wracker and Elise Young previously donated to this foundation. Then participants indicated their likelihood to donate to the foundation. We ran a regression using PROCESS (Hayes Model 1, Hayes, 2013). In the model, other donors’ status manipulation (0 = low; 1 = high), sense of entitlement and the interaction between the two, served as the predictors of participants’ donation likelihood. There was no significant effect for the sense of entitlement or other donors’ status manipulation. The interaction between sense of entitlement and the other donors’ status manipulation was significant (b = .465; SE =.233, t(116) = 1.99, p < .05). Results show that the effect is driven by high levels of entitlement (levels above 1.356 for mean-centered scale). The current research contributes to the literature on prosocial behavior. During the time when more and more individuals demonstrate less concern about others (Twenge & Campbell, 2009) and volunteering and helping behavior is declining (Hampton, 2016), understanding ways of influencing such individuals hold particular relevance. Current research demonstrates that if one is not particularly concerned about others’ welfare (for example, when someone’s level of entitlement is high), their prosocial behavior might be positively influenced by providing an opportunity to self-enhance.