It is already acknowledged that, whether it is rescuing strangers from burning buildings, donating blood or returning a wallet found in the street, humans are among the few creatures that are generous and altruistic towards strangers.
However, Hardy and Van Vugt have discovered that within groups of strangers generous types are the most valued members of their group, with their findings showing that generous individuals receive more status, are more often picked as partners and mates, and more often appear as group leaders.
Hardy and Van Vugt examined altruism in laboratory groups in both a reputation (donations were made public) and no reputation (donations were anonymous) environment. They then looked at how fellow group members would rate each other. First they found that people donated more to the group when their donations were made public. Second, they found that altruists received greater status in their group and were more often chosen as group leaders. Finally, they found that altruists were more often chosen as partners in a follow-up task, whereas selfish individuals were being ostracized.
Hardy and Van Vugt concluded that niceness pays. ‘In a world where people can choose who they want to interact with, altruists create more opportunities for themselves than selfish people. One practical implication is that altruism in society can be fostered by encouraging people to publicly display their generosity.’
Hardy and Van Vugt are now extending their experiments to explore other aspects of what they refer to as ‘competitive altruism’, which will provide a new way of thinking about human sociality. (‘Competitive altruism’ explains why humans are unusually altruistic, especially in large groups. It explains many uniquely human qualities such as heroism, prestige, volunteering, and philanthropy).
Karen Baxter | alfa
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