Generosity Can Breed Contempt

Scientific American

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’Tis better to give than to receive. But if you give too much, you might receive contempt. Because a study finds that people shun group members who are overly generous.

Three-hundred-ten volunteers were each given points that they could contribute to the group or keep for themselves. They were also told that their final points tally would be converted to chances at winning a gift card.

After seeing the amounts contributed by five other group members—that were really computer simulations—participants had the option of punishing those that contributed the most. And they gladly gave up one of their own points to deduct 3 points from the most generous member.

Participants also rated how much they wanted other members to remain in the group. They went after those that gave too little and too much. The study is in the journal Social Science Research. [Kyle Irwin and Christine Horne, A normative explanation of antisocial punishment]

The researchers believe that a group’s members can find conformity within the group more important than the success of the group. As Ben Franklin may have put it, in some cases hanging together makes hanging separately more likely.

—Amy Kraft

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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