New article out in Science Advances — Discordant Benevolence: How and why people help others in the face of conflicting values

I’m excited to have a new article out in Science Advances with a stellar group of collaborators: Sarah K. Cowan, Brea L. Perry, Bridget Ritz, Stuart Perrett, and Elizabeth M. Anderson.

In it, we explore the phenomenon of “discordant benevolence,” which we define as help that counters another personal value. We use the example of abortion in the United States, reporting the proportion of Americans morally opposed to abortion who are nonetheless willing to support a friend or family member obtain one. Interviews from National Abortion Attitudes Study I led shed light on the rationales behind this seemingly contradictory behavior, categorized as commiseration, exemption, and discretion.

This research offers yet another reminder of the messiness of Americans’ abortion attitudes — and a caution against narrow presumptions based upon available labels. It’s also an example of how attitudes play out not just in the ballot box, but in real life and relationship with others.

Read the full Science Advances article for free here.

Sample Media Coverage:

MSN; American Independent; The Nation; Breitbart; Science Alert; more…


What happens when a request for help from friends or family members invokes conflicting values? In answering this question, we integrate and extend two literatures: support provision within social networks and moral decision-making. We examine the willingness of Americans who deem abortion immoral to help a close friend or family member seeking one. Using data from the General Social Survey and 74 in-depth interviews from the National Abortion Attitudes Study, we find that a substantial minority of Americans morally opposed to abortion would enact what we call discordant benevolence: providing help when doing so conflicts with personal values. People negotiate discordant benevolence by discriminating among types of help and by exercising commiseration, exemption, or discretion. This endeavor reveals both how personal values affect social support processes and how the nature of interaction shapes outcomes of moral decision-making.