Perceived Physical Vulnerability Promotes Prosocial Behavior

Marina Motsenok*, Tehila Kogut, Ilana Ritov

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Our research examines the association between perceived physical vulnerability and prosocial behavior. Studies 1 to 4 establish a positive association between individuals’ vulnerability and their prosociality. To increase generality, these studies looked at different behaviors (volunteering vs. monetary donations), various physical harms (e.g., war vs. illness), and different samples (students vs. MTurk workers). Study 4 also provides initial evidence of a partial mediating effect of closeness on the observed association. In Study 5, perceived vulnerability is experimentally manipulated, demonstrating a causal link between vulnerability and willingness to donate. Study 6 further demonstrates that closeness partially mediates the association between vulnerability and donation, while ruling out an alternative explanation of the effect—such as that vulnerable people donate in expectation of future reciprocity. Together, our research demonstrates a consistent positive association between perceived physical vulnerability and prosociality. This effect appears small when considering daily threats and stronger when vulnerability becomes more salient.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)254-267
Number of pages14
JournalPersonality and Social Psychology Bulletin
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, Inc.


  • altruism
  • donation
  • generosity
  • prosocial behavior
  • vulnerability
  • Students
  • Humans
  • Altruism
  • Volunteers


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