Charlie Breslin

Session 3: 2:00 - 3:30 pm
Board Number

Church Hierarchy and Prosociality in American Christianity

Understanding prosocial behavior (activities such as volunteering, cooperation, or helping others) is a psychological challenge associated with a wealth of literature and study. There are a variety of theories which attempt to explain why it is that humans engage in behavior which does not directly benefit them or their immediate associates. This study will focus on the cultural group affiliation approach— particularly its indication that ingroup bias may influence prosocial behavior. Religious hierarchy will be used as a framework through which to understand prosociality; religion has long been associated with prosocial behavior, and hierarchical construction may influence perceptions of one’s “ingroup.” Hierarchical construction refers to the existence and emphasis placed on extracongregational authorities (i.e., the Vatican). Using Sullins’ (2004) model of ranking religious hierarchy, the three most populous denominations from the “low,” “medium,” and “high” levels of hierarchy were selected. These groups are as follows: High: Catholic Church Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints Episcopal Church Medium: Southern Baptist Convention United Methodist Church National Baptist Convention, USA Low: Assemblies of God Church of God in Christ Presbyterian Church in America It is hypothesized that groups with higher levels of hierarchy will demonstrate more prosocial beliefs and behaviors. This would support the notion that greater ideas of denominational hierarchy lead to an expanded ingroup. This study will also explore whether participants engage in targeted prosociality— i.e., whether their charity and/or volunteerism are focused on denominational/Christian or secular groups. Past research indicates that ingroup bias may shape who prosocial actors target, but it is unknown whether hierarchy will influence what percentage of individuals engage in targeted vs. untargeted charity and volunteerism. Prosocial attitudes will be measured using Nickell’s Helping Attitudes Scale (1998), and prosocial behavior will be measured using Rushton, Chrisjohn, & Fekken’s Self-Report Altruism Scale (1981). The Collective Self-Esteem Scale (Luhtanen & Crocker, 1982), modified to measure solely congregational affiliation, will be administered in order to account for the possible confound of differing prosocial behavior from individuals who do not strongly identify with their congregational ingroup. Participants will also be questioned on the targets of their volunteerism and charity; these questions were inserted into the Self-Report Altruism Scale. Data are still being collected via MTurk; as such, there is no information on the participants or results at this time.