Religious Shoppers Spend Less Money

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The second student blog post from Dr. Carter’s Social Psychology course from this past semester, the authors of this article are Elizabeth Harris, Molly Kasemeyer, Sam Buczek and Kelsey Lee. 


The holiday season is finally here! Families gather to share a large meal and exchange colorfully wrapped gifts. Individuals most likely find themselves out-and-about at stores during this time of year, not only to buy gifts, but to buy groceries for that delicious meal. Every shopper has different preferences on brands, products, prices, and even different values when it comes to buying foods, but do people with similar values and lifestyles also share similar purchasing styles? The experiments conducted and discussed in the journal article, Religious shoppers spend less money, aimed to answer a similar question; do religious beliefs affect grocery shoppers spending and purchasing habits? The study that will be discussed here specifically measures the effect of religious priming on grocery shoppers’ willingness to pay for unexpected purchases.

The first part of the study simulated an unplanned shopping trip where the participants would be able to spend about $25.00. They chose one common grocery item from seven different food categories in which each categories food choices were priced the same to ensure a total of about $25.00. The second part of the study presents each participant with an item at checkout that is, hypothetically, of interest to them, in this case their favorite magazine. They are then asked how much they would be willing to pay for it. After completing the simulation, participants answered a set of demographic questions and questions regarding their religious beliefs and other social concepts.

Prior to completing the simulated shopping trip and post-experimental questions, the researchers utilized the technique of priming to create the experimental and control groups. Participants were randomly assigned to either watch a short video with a religious focus, the religious prime, or a short video on oil painting tips, the control prime. After viewing the assigned video, the experimenters administered a prime check where participants answered questions about their feelings toward God after watching the religious prime video. The independent variable in this experiment was the religious prime while the dependent variable was the participants willingness to pay for the magazine.

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The findings of the study were simple. The more religious a person is, the less likely one is to spend money on “novel purchases”. Many religions emphasize being prudent with money, meaning that many would not spend money, or at least a lot of money,  on unexpected items they may come across during a grocery shopping trip. This study proved that “participants in the religiosity condition” would spent an average of 9.6% less on groceries than customers in the control condition. The study also proved that a “religious prime” lowers money spent by grocery shoppers whether they were a believer in God or not. Lastly, the conclusion stated that “the effect of religion on grocery spending arises from people’s tendency to associate religion and religious cues with frugality rather than the documented effect is simply being a manifestation of religious people’s values”, which means that individuals justify the experiment’s results with the belief that religious shoppers are “frugal” in nature.

The main psychological process utilized in this experimental study was attention. The participant’s attention during priming in the experimental condition is focused on the religious aspect and leads people to make the common associate between religion and religion cues to frugality. This is evident because people who were not religious still exhibited the same response to the religious priming as those who already had a religious set of beliefs showing that the universal psychological process of attention is at work. Attention leads people to focus on a specific idea and act according to commonly associate behaviors. After watching the priming videos, participants were asked their feelings specifically relating to God. Participants that were in the religious prime condition reported that they felt closer to God or had stronger feelings towards God than those in the control group. Overall, the attention process enabled the participants to be more conservative with their spending compared to the control group.

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It is evident that the experimenters thought about various factor of the experiment that could elicit bias or lead to skewed data based on their description in the “Measure” section of the article. Even though their method was sound, they did not choose a representative sample. Instead, they chose individuals who worked for a specific company. This could lead to bias because of possible shared qualities among this group of workers that could influence behaviors in the posed situation. Also, the topic of the control video, oil painting, may not be considered completely neutral. Participants could be either bored by this video or rather intrigued which could lead to more positive or negative feelings in the moment. These feelings could possibly affect their willingness to pay for an unexpected item.


Kurt, et al. “Religious shoppers spend less money.” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, vol. 78, 2018, pp. 116–124.

Allie. “8 Basic Psychological Processes.” Exploring Your Mind, Exploring Your Mind, 25 June 2018,

The False Paradox of Selflessness

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As part of Dr. Carter’s Fall 2018 Social Psychology class, students worked in groups to analyze a study related to their coursework. They then wrote a blog post demonstrating their ability to summarize and analyze the study, describing any possible improvements that could be made along with ideas for future studies.

Five of these posts were randomly selected to be posted to the Psychology Department’s official blog. This blog post, titled The False Paradox of Selflessness was written by Lynsey Wyatt (’21), Emily Deeds (’20), and Ciprianna Azar (’19) and is the first of the five to be posted.

We hope you enjoy reading it!                        ___________________________________________________________________________

If acting altruistically makes us happier, isn’t it a selfish act?

Day to day, we observe acts that we may consider altruistic. Whether it be a small gesture of kindness or a heroic act of self-sacrifice, simply observing these behaviors influences our opinion of the actor. This leads us to question: how do we begin to judge someone’s true moral character? Prosociality refers to any behavior that intentionally benefits another, while altruism refers to more “selfless” actions. In contrast, egoistic forms of prosocial behavior tend to be motivated by attaining some benefit such as social or capital gain. A group of researchers sought to understand what truly makes us believe an act is altruistic. Carlson and Zaki (2018) conducted two studies examining the benefits of prosocial acts and the differences in perceptions of altruism by motive or consequence of benefit.

In both studies, participants were randomly assigned to one of three conditions and tasked with reading through eight different scenarios and answering an online survey. In the control condition, the scenario only described a prosocial action such as “Jane gave blood at a local clinic”. In the other two experimental conditions, they were given more information about how Jane felt after giving blood, how much money she was given for donating, how many followers she gained on Instagram from her blood drive selfie or how she helped someone in need of blood. These scenarios highlighted four potential benefits including material, social, emotional, or other-oriented benefits. Participants were randomly assigned to read the actions as motivating or consequence. After reading the scenarios, the participants’ judgements were examined using multiple items: how altruistic they thought the prosocial agent was, how altruistic they thought the agent’s action was, and how altruistic they thought the agent’s motive for their action was.

They first found that for participants who were shown that others performed the behavior and received benefits as a consequence or result, they believed that behaviors that resulted in material benefits or social benefits were of a less altruistic nature. We then infer that the person was motivated in the first place to engage in the act because they wanted a benefit such as monetary (material) or wanted praise (social). These same participants saw emotional benefits, such as feeling good about oneself, and other-oriented or directed towards others, as altruistic. This means that a sense of doing a good deed does not take away from the selfless act that was done.

Participants who were led to believe the person had a motive or reason to engage in an altruistic behavior for benefits, material or social, were seen as significantly less altruistic. These participants saw motives for behavior that was other-oriented as more altruistic, and surprisingly, even saw emotional benefit as less altruistic. This suggests that people who are motivated to engage for selfish reasons are seen as less altruistic than those who do not have this motive but are unexpectedly rewarded.

In the control group to which the participants had no information on the motive or consequential benefit to the actor, they rated the actor as altruistic no matter the benefit. This can be explained by the lack of information, as we tend to want to believe that people help others for selfless reasons.

Through the psychological process of disambiguation, Carlson and Zaki were able to manipulate the participant’s judgements of the actors. This allowed them to examine whether or not perceptions of altruistic acts change when paired with different types of benefits, and if motive versus consequence conditions differentially affect this perception. Carlson and Zaki demonstrate a nuanced mechanism behind perceptions of “true altruism” that allow for an act to benefit both oneself and others, so long as one’s motive is other-oriented. More specifically, their findings suggest that when an observer is judging an actor that benefits themselves emotionally (as opposed to materially or socially) from a prosocial interaction, it differentially affects judgement of the actor’s motives. This suggests, according to the researchers, it is a better predictor of future generosity than extrinsic motivators.

In ambiguous situations, what factors influence baseline assumptions? Zaki and Carlson’s study of lay theories of altruism and selfishness effectively highlights some of the nuances of social behavior and judgements. However, the studies lack the interpersonal dynamic facilitated by in-person interactions. Social interactions are based upon emotional exchanges. As social beings, we rely upon our ability to interpret others’ emotional states to understand their intentions and our relationship to others. In future work, it would be interesting to utilize confederates to simulate situations closer to real-world circumstances. Overall, Carlson and Zaki’s findings are consistent with what we may expect from the effects of altruism, despite a seemingly contradictory paradigm where a “selfless” act benefits the actor’s sense of self.

Citation: Carlson, R. W., & Zaki, J. (2018). Good deeds gone bad: Lay theories of altruism and selfishness. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 75, 36-40.




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A Brief Interview with Vanessa Pearson ’21, A Gilman Scholarship Recipient!

A student assistant recently interviewed Vanessa Pearson ’21, a Gilman Scholarship recipient, on her plans for studying abroad this upcoming Spring semester and what the application process for the Gilman was like. 

To start off, can you tell me a little about yourself? 

I am a sophomore here at Roanoke. I am majoring in Psychology and Education with a concentration in Human Development. I am originally from Franklin County, VA, about forty minutes away from Salem. On campus, I am a part of Colleges Against Cancer and Habitat for Humanity. Off campus, I work a part time job as a waitress/cook/manager at a restaurant in my hometown. I also play rec volleyball in my free time.

Congratulations on receiving the Gilman Scholarship! Can you tell me a little about program, what the application process was like, and where you are going to be studying?

I am going through an international student exchange program to Australia. I will be studying at James Cook University in Queensland. The application process for James Cook University was surprisingly easy. I did not have to write any admission papers on anything like that. I think the hardest part about that application was trying to figure out what classes I wanted to take since they had to go on the application so that they could get approved. 

The application for the Gilman Scholarship was a little more complex. There were a bunch of different parts to it. The biggest part of the Gilman was the essay section. You needed to have two essays explaining why you are a good candidate for it and what will you do to promote the Gilman and study abroad if you receive it.

What drew you to studying abroad in Australia?

I am not one hundred percent sure what drew me to studying in Australia. I was at a study abroad meeting and Dr. Boggs-Parker was going over all of the different places you could study [and] when she said Australia it clicked. [I felt like] that was it, that was where I needed to go.

Also, the warmer weather doesn’t hurt.

Another part of me going to Australia is that I want to work in the education system. I thought it would be really interesting to see how education works on a different side of the globe. I also needed to go somewhere that I would be able to understand what others are saying since I would not be studying a language while abroad.

What are you the most excited about in terms of studying abroad (both in general and specific to Australia)?

I am excited to experience something new. I am a commuter at Roanoke, so I [want] to [know] what it feels like to live on campus. I am also excited to travel around the world.

In terms of sightseeing, I really want to go to the Great Barrier Reef and also hike around several places. I am excited to make new friendships and I really want to pet a kangaroo and hold a koala bear.

What courses are you most interested in taking while there?

I am really excited about taking Modern Australian History. I think that it is cool that I will be learning about history through the eyes of a different country. I am also excited to take my education class because I want to see and learn from different education systems.

What advice would you have for those interested in applying to competitive scholarships/grants like Gilman?

I would say do not wait until the last minute. Start the application process as soon as possible; have someone read over your draft and, for lack of better words, tear it apart. I wrote four drafts before making small corrections to the final one. I would also go through the application and make sure you are not going to have any last-minute questions [to complete] before the deadline, that way you can ensure they are answered.

Is there anything else you would like add?

The only thing that I would add is that there is always hope for getting a scholarship you want. Write your application with purpose and meaning. Also, get Dr. Rosti to read over your application, that woman is a saint.

Thank you, Vanessa, for taking time to answer our questions! We know you will have a fantastic time studying abroad and hope you will share some of your favorite memories upon returning to campus next school year (including petting kangaroos and holding koalas)!

For those interested in learning more about the Gilman Scholarship, click on the logo below to go to their official website.

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