A social identity threat perspective on being the target of generosity from a higher status other

Gillian M. Sandstrom, Toni Schmader, Alyssa Croft, Navio Kwok

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Both giving and receiving money have emotional benefits, but when gifts of value are made in the context of socioeconomic differences, there might also be emotional costs. Four studies (and an internal meta-analysis) tested the idea that receiving a generous gift from someone higher in perceived socioeconomic status (SES) signals social identity threat. In Study 1 (N = 218), participants on average, but especially those with relatively lower SES, reported experiencing more self-conscious negative affect when receiving a generous amount of money (vs. an even split) from a higher status giver in a dictator game. This effect was mediated by feeling pitied by the giver. Studies 2 (N = 331) and 3 (N = 426) revealed similar effects with recalled real-world experiences of receiving a generous gift from higher SES givers. Studies 3 and 4 (N = 142) revealed evidence for serial mediation, with lower relative SES predicting status awareness, status awareness predicting attributions of pity, and attributions of pity in turn predicting self-conscious negative affect. Effects were not significantly moderated by needing or requesting the money, suggesting that acts of generosity across the status divide readily signal social devaluation for those with lower perceived status. Findings have practical and conceptual implications for prosocial giving in a system of social and economic inequality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)98-114
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Experimental Social Psychology
StatePublished - May 2019


  • Attributions
  • Prosocial behavior
  • Self-conscious emotion
  • Social identity threat
  • Socioeconomic status

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


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