Is the warm glow actually warm? An experimental investigation into the nature and determinants of warm glow feelings

International Journal of Wellbeing 13 (3):1-23 (2023)
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Giving money to others feels good. It is now standard to use the label ‘warm glow feelings’ to refer to the pleasure people take from giving. But what exactly are warm glow feelings? And why do people experience them? To answer these questions, we ran two studies: a recall task in which participants were asked to remember a donation they made, and a donation task in which participants were given the opportunity to make a donation before reporting their affective states. Correlational and experimental results converge towards the conclusion that, if the nature of the warm glow is straightforward, its source is multifaceted. Regarding the nature of the ‘warm glow’, the pleasure people took in giving was mainly predicted by one particular type of positive emotion and was indeed described by participants as ‘warm’. Regarding the underlying psychological mechanisms, warm glow feelings were elicited by positive appraisals regarding the donor’s moral character, positive appraisals regarding the actual impact of the donor’s donation on the welfare of others and a feeling of communion with others. We discuss the theoretical implications of our findings.

Author Profiles

Robin Timothée Bianchi
Université de Neuchâtel
Florian Cova
University of Geneva
Emma Tieffenbach
Università della Svizzera Italiana


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