Punishing the Generous

We all know that free-riders—those who don’t pay their fair share but are happy to benefit form the contributions of the group—are reviled, recent research shows this attitude also targets people who are excessively generous.

A recent study from Baylor University showed that not only do people dislike generous givers, they’ll even take steps to rebuke them.

The study involved three hundred participants. Each participant had one hundred points to gamble with, each point representing a chance to win a (real) gift card. Participants had to decide how many points to give to the group, and how many to keep for themselves. Because communication happened via computers, participants did not know that other members of their “group” were merely simulated with predetermined behaviour.

Each participate was the fifth giver in a sequence. They saw the amounts given by the four preceding givers. The final giver was programmed to be either especially stingy, or especially generous.

Participants had the opportunity to punish other group members by “paying” to deduct points from them, at a ratio of one point for every three deducted. Given the opportunity, participates “paid” to dock points from the most generous as well as the stingiest.

Also, when asked who ought to be kicked from the group, people were more than happy to kick out generous givers along with stingy ones.

So, what to make of this information? When you can, donate money anonymously. When you’re paying for something with a group (vacation to the cabin, happy hour), either work out an equitable division ahead of time or ask for separate cheques. Whatever you do, don’t be overly generous. People hate that, apparently.



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