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5 Research Findings Concerning Karma

Some lessons about karma.

Many people believe that what goes around comes around. Exactly how or why this notion pans out per the research is unclear. As we all know, sometimes giving fails to align with receiving. While some morally repugnant people summit the highest echelons of society, other very kind and generous people fall to the wayside.

Research has been done on karma, with some intriguing findings that may be applicable to daily life. Here are five evidence-based takeaways.


Karma can be reproduced in experimental settings, which gives the concept scientific clout.

In the realm of cognitive theory, the term construct refers to explanations of mental concepts or ideas. Activating a construct can influence human outlook. For instance, if a person is thinking of dishonesty, then their attention will be guided to dishonest phenomena in the environment, and their perception will thus be influenced. Ambiguous actions taken by others, such as failing to scan an item at self checkout, will be prone to be interpreted as dishonest rather than merely forgetful.

Research shows that manipulating participant behavior in a fashion linked to a concept can lead the participant to perceive outsiders in a consistent fashion. For instance, if a person were primed to behave in an indignant manner, this person will perceive others with indignation. This finding underlies a key aspect of karma: One’s own behaviors results in perceiving the world in a certain fashion.


In his research, organizational psychologist, WorkLife podcaster, and Wharton professor, Adam Grant, Ph.D., found that those givers who advance to the top of an organization are typically not selfless givers. Selfless givers usually fail because they lack boundaries, and end up indiscriminately wasting resources by helping everyone.

Instead, givers who succeed show clarity in whom they help and how they help these people. They also focus their efforts on either like-minded givers or matchers, whom Grant defines as those people landing somewhere between givers and takers. Moreover, successful givers are wary of takers, and worry about these people taking advantage.

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If interested in cultivating a culture of giving at an organization, Grant’s research indicates that it’s better to refrain from hiring takers rather than hiring givers. The damage a taker can do far outweighs the potential benefits of a giver.


Another way to cultivate a culture of giving is to reward and recognize givers who improve the workplace, in addition to those employees who post excellent results. Takers can muddy the waters by assuming undue credit via self-aggrandizement. Instead, management should ask employees to nominate those who improve the work environment.


According to the results of an experimental study published in PLOS ONE, although most people hope to live in a just world, responses to perceived karma are disparate. Specifically, when a “bad” thing happens to a “good” person, people tend to compensate a good person’s losses to a nominal degree. For instance, when a person dies in a tragic accident, outsiders are usually satisfied to make small donations to a GoFundMe page.

On the other hand, when a “good” thing happens to a “bad” person, outsiders usually do little to counter the injustice. In response to such injustice, the only reprisal would be to fully strip the bad person of ill-gotten gains.

In the rare case when action is taken, people go for broke and take drastic steps. For instance, when high-profile robber barons are eventually exposed, retribution in the form of prosecution, as well as media scrutiny, can be protracted and intense, as is currently being demonstrated with the criminal proceedings brought against disgraced Theranos CEO Elizabeth Holmes and her partner Ramesh "Sunny" Balwani.


Allen, PM, Edwards, JA, McCullough, W. Does karma exist?: Buddhism, social cognition, and the evidence for karma. International Journal for the Psychology of Religion. 2015; 25: 1-17.

Galak J, Chow RM. Compensate a little, but punish a lot: Asymmetric routes to restoring justice. January 10, 2019.

Oregon State University. The Science of Karma. Accessed 6/30/2020.

The ‘science’ of karma. American Psychological Association. Accessed 6/27/2020.