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Weekly Doses of Pop-up Psych

We all make cringey mistakes and deserve to move on, rather than feel confused or regretful after an icky social situation. Each week, I will dissect a murky social, life cycle, or pop culture topic to help you understand, learn, and move on. As a former academic, I am a super-picky consumer of research (and you should be too) as well as the content I create and share, so those new solutions, data and/or additional resources have certainly met my approval.

Lifting the Mask of Virtue Signaling

“Save the planet!”, they enthusiastically shouted at a climate change event before spewing about the horrible consequences of our carbon footprints. The underlying message intended to trigger guilt was that we all need to do better. Of course, the lecturers don’t share that they traveled to and from the event in a private jet. How is that saving the planet? 










Social media show our friends and connections, as well as our favorite celebrities posting pictures and videos of themselves handing out turkeys at Thanksgiving, playing Santa at the holidays, picking up trash on Earth Day, and working in soup kitchens.Census data showed that between September 2020-2021, almost 51% of the U.S. population age 16 and over or 124.7 million people, informally helped their neighbors, whereas more than 23% of people in that age group or 60.7 million, said they formally volunteered through an organization.


Virtue signaling, synonymous with performance activism and image donation, is when someone feigns altruism because it makes them look good. They do what they do for extrinsic motivation and validation from other people, rather than sincerely care about the cause. 


People give what they can give. Whether it’s time or money, any act of volunteering or charity donation is honorable. According to National Philanthropic Trust, Americans donated almost $500,000,000,000 in 2022.  However, the acts of kindness do not have to be publicized, posted, hashtagged, and emojied.  It makes us wonder if the deed would still be done without the look-at-me factor. 


Separating a virtue signaler from an altruistic person is like noticing the difference between a real and fake designer handbag


Here are the clues to spot someone who is virtue signaling versus authentic altruism. It might not be obvious, they do eventually show their true colors. 


It’s virtue signaling when charitable acts are done for publicity

Would the cause be just as important if there were no cameras, recognition, or social media? If the cause is intrinsic and genuine, then the publicity would be irrelevant. True altruism is done quietly, anonymously, and privately on random days, aside from popular events and holidays. Those who do it for the cause, particularly when nobody is watching, would be the real altruists. Most likely, the recipients of the cause do not want to be photographed.





It’s virtue signaling when the activist publicizes the event, instead of the organization

Nonprofits need help in terms of money, goods and labor. When the organization is proud and publicity must be done, it should come from them instead of the activist. The organization should have signed consent before putting someone on any of their marketing materials. A parent/guardian’s signature is required for minors. Receiving donations might be humbling, so the recipients may not want to be front and center of someone’s social media pages.


It’s virtue signaling when actions contradict their words


How about those people who lecture about this and do that? It’s very trendy right now to preach about kindness.. Anyone can spew out words that someone else wrote from them, but nothing speaks louder than random acts of kindness when nobody is watching.  


It’s virtue signaling when the words stay on social media


“Thoughts and prayers!” We have all heard that before. How many of them are actually praying beyond the post? 


It’s virtue signaling to shame people for their mistakes


Publicly calling out, canceling, or cyberbullying people when they misstep is wrong, despite thinking it makes them look like saints. If they were really doing good, they would privately address the issue, rather than make it a public affair.  

Meditate on This


How can your actions speak louder than your words? Have you lifted the mask of any virtue signalers?


Hi Beautiful Readers and thank you for reading this! I'm Dr. Joanne Broder, Media Psychologist, Author, and Fellow of the American Psychological Association. Please consider me to help you write your memoir, blogs, speeches, e-books, as well as coach you on your dissertation or thesis.  Click here so we can connect!

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