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Dr. Joshua Greene on Why Effective Altruism Is a Powerful Giving Multiplier

In honor of Giving Tuesday 2022, today I talk to Joshua Greene, a Professor of Psychology and a member of the Center for Brain Science faculty at Harvard University, about the psychology of effective altruism and the giving multiplier initiative, which is the idea that the more people donate to highly effective charities, the more good that can be done.

To learn more and make a donation through Giving Multiplier, visit

in this eye-opening interview, Dr. Greene discusses the importance of effective giving through the psychology of effective altruism. He offers potent examples of how altruism has changed the world for the better and why we should all be more altruistic. This important talk will change how you think about giving back and the power of altruism in the world.

It is really astounding how much good an ordinary person can do if you choose the right charities. By choosing more effective charities, even for part of your donation, you can multiply your effectiveness by an order of 10 or an order of 100 times.

Dr. Joshua Greene

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In This Episode, Dr. Joshua Greene and I Explore the Psychology of Effective Altruism and Why It Is a Powerful Giving Multiplier.

In today’s episode, I speak with Harvard professor Dr. Joshua Greene, who is an expert on moral judgment and decision-making.

The goal of today’s episode is to explore how people view charitable donations, should these views be challenged, and would the effectiveness of charities raise greater funds for the charity sector in the future. We will explore the psychology of effective altruism and how most people give as a matter of personal preference which favors decisions based on emotional appeal rather than effectiveness. We will explore the importance of effectiveness and why effective charities (ones that save the most lives and improve lives the most) are 100 times more effective than typical charities.

Furthermore, we will explore why ordinary people have the power to save and transform people’s lives through effective giving, and why we are beginning to understand the factors that encourage and discourage such choices. This episode is being released on Giving Tuesday, a day with a focus on giving back following Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

221 | The Psychology of Effective Altruism | Dr. Joshua Greene | Passion Struck with John R. miles
221 | The Psychology of Effective Altruism | Dr. Joshua Greene | Passion Struck with John R. miles

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More From My Interview With Dr. Joshua Greene on Effective Altruism and the Giving Multiplier

During our interview, I asked Josh about the common characteristics of those charities that are highly effective versus those that are not.

Dr. Joshua Greene explains, “So a framework for thinking about this is important, neglected and tractable. so important basically means big, right? That is, is this a big problem that we’re trying to solve? There are 1000s of people, many of them children every year who die from malaria, for example. And Malaria is a preventable disease. That’s on a huge scale, right? And that’s much more effective to do something that can help 1000s of people as opposed to a cause for a single person, even though single individuals tend to be much more motivating, right?

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It’s always much more effective to tell the story of a single person. And it’s good that we have those interpersonal feelings, but bigger problems are bigger problems, right? So that’s one, then there’s this neglected issue. So if everybody is already putting a lot of money into something, this happens often when there’s a kind of emergency, right? So a tsunami does terrible damage, and there’s a rescue effort, and money may come pouring in from all over the world.

And that’s great, and that region needs it. But it can be far more than people can put to good use. And there can be chronic ongoing problems, where you actually do still more good per dollar solving this problem that’s always there.

Then you do this by addressing this emergency. This sort of overflow of funds during an emergency is like one end of the spectrum when it comes to what’s neglected or not. But then other things are always there, and they’re neglected because especially because the problems are in places that are not where the charitable funds are originating. That’s probably the single biggest reason.

And then tractable, right? So there are some problems that we really don’t know how to solve, right? But there are others where we have pretty good solutions, right? So to return to the example of preventing malaria, long-lasting insecticidal malaria nets have been shown to do extremely well through controlled experiments. And this has been rigorously tested where the nets are distributed in this set of randomly selected villages, and then you have a randomly selected control where they’re not.

And you can see over time how many cases of malaria are there, how many deaths are there. For the amount of money that a person in the United States with some disposable income can afford to give, you can save somebody’s life. iIt probably costs about $5,000 to distribute malaria nets to save someone’s life. People often think I should say that it’s much cheaper to save somebody’s life. You may have seen people on TV say, Oh, for $100, or $10, you can save somebody’s life.

But that’s not exactly accurate. Indeed, a very inexpensive treatment could just happen to be in the right place at the right time to save somebody’s life. But in practice, you have to give out a lot of malaria nets to produce the effect where someone’s life ends up being saved. But that’s for real. That’s real hard scientific evidence behind that. And you can do that either yourself or team up with a relatively small number of people.

And this against malaria foundation is one of the charities we support. So you want big problems that have big effects on lots of people, you want problems that are not everybody’s rushing to help on that with their funds, and then ones where you have good, well-validated methods for addressing the problem.

Thanks, Dr. Joshua Greene!

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Resources From The Show With Dr. Joshua Greene

Please note that some of the links on this page (books, movies, music, etc.) lead to affiliate programs for which The Passion Struck podcast receives compensation. It’s just one of the ways we keep the lights on around here. Thank you so much for being so supportive!


Read Moral Tribes:

My solo episode on whether or not free will exists:

My interview with Seth Godin on why we need systems to change to save the planet and address climate change:

My interview with Dr. Scott Barry Kaufman and Dr. Jordan Feingold on Choosing Growth and transcending self-doubt, fear, and anxiety:

My interview with Dr. Katy Milkman on the behavior science behind how we change:

My solo episode on why micro choices matter:

About Today’s Guest, Dr. Joshua Greene

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Joshua D. Greene is Professor of Psychology and a member of the Center for Brain Science faculty at Harvard University. Dr. Greene is the author of Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them. His honors include the Stanton Prize from the Society for Philosophy and Psychology and Harvard’s Roslyn Abramson Award for teaching. He has been voted a “Favorite Professor” by several of Harvard College’s graduating classes.

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John R. Miles is a serial entrepreneur and the CEO and founder of Passion Struck. This full-service media company helps people live intentionally by creating best-in-class educational and entertainment content. John is also a prolific public speaker, venture capitalist, and author named to the ComputerWorld Top 100 IT Leaders.

John is the host of the PassionStruckPodcast. The show focused on exploring the mindset and philosophy of the world’s most inspiring people to learn their lessons to living intentionally. Passion Struck aspires to speak to the humanity of people in a way that makes them want to live better, be better and impact.

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