News Stories

Not as Nice as We Think We Are

We've just finished Christmas--a holiday that tends to make us both giving AND greedy, so it's interesting to note that "paying it forward"--a popular expression for extending generosity to others after someone has been generous to you --is a heartwarming concept, but what happens MOST OFTEN is that people repay greed with greed.

Psychologist Kurt Gray says, "The idea of paying it forward is this cascade of goodwill will turn into a utopia with everyone helping everyone. Unfortunately, greed or looking out for ourselves is more powerful than true acts of generosity. The bulk of the scientific research on this concept has focused on good behavior, and we wondered what would happen when you looked at the entire gamut of human behaviors."

In five experiments involving money or work, participants who received an act of generosity didn’t pay generosity forward any more than those who had been treated equally. But participants who had been the victims of greed were more likely to pay greed forward to a future recipient, creating a negative chain reaction. Women and men showed the same levels of generosity and greed in the study.

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