Dear colleague,

The next research seminar, which you are invited to attend, will take place on 14th of July, 11h30, Américo Amorim Building (Room 4), and will be presented by Deborah Small, on the topic “Signals of Selfish Motives in Altruistic Behavior”.

Deborah Small
Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania

Professor Deborah Small's research interfaces psychology and economics, examining fundamental processes that underlie human decision making. Professor Small's research has been published in top-tier academic journals across Psychology and Marketing. She serves as an Associate Editor for Journal of Marketing Research and is a member of several editorial boards. At Wharton, Professor Small was voted "Iron Prof" in 2014. She teaches consumer behavior and Marketing for Social Impact. She received her PhD in Psychology and Behavioral Decision Research from Carnegie Mellon University and her BS from the University of Pennsylvania. She is also a member of the graduate faculty of the Psychology Department at Penn.
She is Advisor of BEO Lab (Behavioral Economics and Organizations Laboratory, FEG, Catolica-Porto).


Theories that reject the existence of altruism argue that any prosocial behavior inevitably involves some form of benefits to the actor. In a series of projects, we ask whether lay theories similarly repudiate any benefits to the actor. Specifically, we examine when people give others charitable credit for their prosocial deeds and when signals of selfish motives undermine perceptions of altruism. We examine three types of motives: 1) material, 2) reputational, and 3) hedonic. The findings suggest that they affect charitable credit in different ways. A material motive sends a strongly negative signal. People give prosocial actors less credit when they benefit materially, even when benefits are unforeseeable or randomly determined. A reputational motive (i.e., signaled by bragging) can have opposing effects. On the one hand, bragging provides information that a prosocial act was performed. On the other hand, it signals a reputational (selfish) motive. Therefore, bragging increases charitable credit in the absence of other information about the good deed, but decreases it when people already know about it. Finally, a hedonic motive is not always penalized. To the contrary, people believe that emotion-driven giving reflects authenticity even though they also avow that emotional givers reap hedonic benefits. Instead, they penalize non-emotional givers even when the non-emotional espouse normative reasons for giving. In sum, lay theories of altruism are more complex than the normative theory and are not always incompatible with selfishness.

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Please confirm your attendance until July 13th by e-mailing Mara Carvalho (

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