A study of high-stakes, anonymous generosity

Related to yesterday’s post: Many studies of generosity have been done over the years, but with relatively small amounts. To study high-stakes generosity, you need a lot of research funding to give to study participants.

That’s what these researchers were able to do, and the results show that people are quite generous in large amounts, and will be generous even without social praise.

How generous are people when making consequential financial decisions in the real world? We took advantage of a rare opportunity to examine generosity among a diverse sample of adults who received a gift of U.S. $10,000 from a pair of wealthy donors, with nearly no strings attached. Two-hundred participants were drawn from three low-income countries (Indonesia, Brazil, and Kenya) and four high-income countries (Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States) as part of a preregistered study. On average, participants spent over $6,400 on purchases that benefited others, including nearly $1,700 on donations to charity, suggesting that humans exhibit remarkable generosity even when the stakes are high. To address whether generosity was driven by reputational concerns, we asked half the participants to share their spending decisions publicly on Twitter, whereas the other half were asked to keep their spending private. Generous spending was similar between the groups, in contrast to our preregistered hypothesis that enhancing reputational concerns would increase generosity.

Are People Generous When the Financial Stakes Are High? | Sage Journals


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Written by

Aaron Miller

Aaron Miller

Provo, UT