Daily BulletinDaily Bulletin

The Conversation

  • Written by Vera L. te Velde, Lecturer in Economics, The University of Queensland

’Tis the season for gift-giving and for the scrooges among us to complain about the wastefulness of gift-giving. Why give gifts, they say, when people know what they want better than anyone else? Others grudgingly admit that, since gift-giving is customary, they will go along with it to avoid being a contrarian.

Many more of us are generous with our close friends and family, so we happily play along even if we question whether the custom makes anyone better off. Is every one of us a little bit of a Grinch?

Thankfully, new research suggests the answer is no. In a recent study, I found that human altruism extends beyond the material realm. That is, many of us experience “beliefs-based altruism”, which is concern for other people’s emotions and other psychological experiences beyond any material measure of well-being.

Beliefs-based altruism means we don’t give gifts only because we want people to have something that they want; we also give gifts because we want them to feel cared about, experience joy or a pleasant surprise when receiving it, or to prevent them from feeling disappointed if we fail to give anything.

Read more: How to have yourself a plastic-free Christmas

This kind of altruism can apply in many other situations. When girl guides come to our doors to sell cookies, we buy them not only to support the group and because we like cookies, but also because we want the girls to feel successful and valued.

When we go Christmas carolling, it’s more important to build a warm holiday spirit than to wow the audience with our amateur singing. And when child welfare charities send us information about our particular sponsored child, it’s because they know we care about the personal impact we’re having, not just the financial bottom line.

These examples may seem obvious but, more impressively, beliefs-based altruism can trump material concerns altogether. Often when we’re asked for feedback – for example, by a friend with a screenplay – we sugarcoat our response to protect their ego, even though they would benefit in the long run from harsher criticism. Or we may fail to let our dinner date know that they have spinach in their teeth to spare them embarrassment, even if they might want to know.

how gift-giving is inspired by beliefs-based altruism A little good news to end the year: we’re not as Grinchy as we might fear. IMDB

But how can we be sure that a pure concern for others’ feelings is the motivation for these behaviours, instead of (or at least in addition to) our own reputations? After all, I don’t only want girl guides to feel good, I also want to be known as someone who supports them. And I don’t only want to spare my date embarrassment, I also don’t want them to think I’m mean-spirited or superficial.

It’s hard to tell beliefs-based altruism from concern for reputation, and this was the key challenge in my research. To shed light on true motivations, I asked people what would make others happy in a simple sharing game.

In this game, one person (Alice) can share part of $10 with another person (Bob). But the bank handling the transfer occasionally makes a mistake and transfers exactly $1 to Bob. So if Bob receives $1, he does not know if the $1 came from Alice or from a bank mistake. Alice can use this to hide her intentions by choosing to share $1 herself.

Participants in the study were asked whether they thought Bob would prefer to be kept in the dark about Alice’s intentions – that is, if she were either particularly generous or ungenerous. For example, if Alice is selfish and only wants to share $1.10 with Bob, would Bob be happier receiving $1 instead and staying ignorant of her intentions? Many people thought Bob would be unhappy about Alice’s selfishness and happy about her generosity.

Amazingly enough, when they played this game themselves, these people were also more likely to give either exactly $1 (thereby hiding selfishness) or exactly $5 (thereby revealing maximal generosity). Some people share $1 to hide their selfishness, but these results show that Bob’s emotions were also a genuine concern.

Read more: Hate Christmas? A psychologist's survival guide for Grinches

Economists have grown cynical about human altruism due to studies like this one that show people avoid supermarket entrances where people collecting donations for the Salvation Army are stationed. Certainly, we often avoid pressure to be altruistic, especially when it lets us maintain a reputation for kindness. But, at the same time, using a different entrance does at least save the solicitor from feeling rejected. And the same concern makes us especially generous when we do choose to be altruistic. It’s time to take a more charitable view of charitable actions.

In the meantime, give the nearest scrooge a hug. Maybe this simple act of beliefs-based altruism will remind him that when it comes to holiday gift-giving, it’s the thought that counts.

Authors: Vera L. te Velde, Lecturer in Economics, The University of Queensland

Read more http://theconversation.com/were-not-as-grinchy-as-we-think-how-gift-giving-is-inspired-by-beliefs-based-altruism-108739

My Fair Lady: Greatest Musical of the 20th Century

arrow_forward

How to Turn 1Z0-931 Exam Preparation into Successful Career

arrow_forward

The Ultimate Guide for Tarps

arrow_forward

The Conversation
INTERWEBS DIGITAL AGENCY

Politics

Prime Minister Interview with Ben Fordham, 2GB

FORDHAM: Thank you very much for talking to us. I know it's a difficult day for all of those Qantas workers. Look, they want to know in the short term, are you going to extend JobKeeper?   PRI...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Prime Minister Scott Morrison interview with Neil Mitchell

NEIL MITCHELL: Prime minister, good morning.    PRIME MINISTER: Good morning, how are you?   MICHELL: I’m okay, a bit to get to I apologise, we haven't spoken for a while and I want to get t...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Prime Minister Interview with Ben Fordham

PRIME MINISTER: I've always found that this issue on funerals has been the hardest decision that was taken and the most heartbreaking and of all the letters and, you know, there's been over 100...

Scott Morrison - avatar Scott Morrison

Business News

SEO In A Time of COVID-19: A Life-Saver

The coronavirus pandemic has brought about a lot of uncertainty for everyone across the world. It has had one of the most devastating impacts on the day-to-day lives of many including business o...

a Guest Writer - avatar a Guest Writer

5 Ways Risk Management Software Can Help Your Business

No business is averse to risks. Nobody can predict the future or even plan what direction a business is going to take with 100% accuracy. For this reason, to avoid issues or minimise risks, some for...

News Company - avatar News Company

5 Ways To Deal With Unemployment and Get Back Into the Workforce

Being unemployed has a number of challenges and they’re not all financial. It can affect you psychologically and sometimes it can be difficult to dig your way out of a rut when you don’t have a job ...

News Company - avatar News Company



News Company Media Core

Content & Technology Connecting Global Audiences

More Information - Less Opinion