Who supports redistribution? Replicating and refining effects of compassion, malicious envy, and self-interest

Norman Lin, Timothy Bates

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Debate over wealth redistribution plays a prominent role in society, but the causes of differences in support for redistribution remain contested. A recent three-person two-situation model suggests these differences are shaped by evolved motivational systems of self-interest, compassion, and dispositional envy. We conducted a close replication testing this prediction, all subjects were British, recruited from an online subject pool. Study 1 (N = 206) confirmed the roles of self-interest (β = 0.20) and compassion for others (β = 0.37), as well as a predicted null effect of procedural fairness. Dispositional envy was non-significant (β = 0.06). In study 2 (N = 304), we tested whether it was better to conceptualize envy as being two separate emotions, benign envy and malicious envy. A significant effect of malicious envy was found (β = 0.13) and no significant effect of benign envy (β = −0.06). Study 3 (N = 501) closely replicated this improved model, confirming significant effects of compassion (β = 0.40), self-interest (β = 0.21), and malicious envy (β = 0.15), accounting for one third of variance in support for redistribution. These results support the role of evolved motivational systems to explain and improve important aspects of contemporary economic redistribution.
Original languageEnglish
JournalEvolution and Human Behavior
Early online date29 Aug 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 29 Aug 2020

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • taxation
  • fairness
  • envy
  • ethics and moral philosophy
  • evolutionary psychology
  • compassion
  • self-interest
  • redistribution


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