News In Brief

That person who never has a case of the Mondays

Christina Huh Aug 27, 2010

So you know that one perfect, goody two-shoe who actually files their TPS reports correctly and won’t even take a peek at Facebook even on their lunch break? You hate them — and now a psychological study confirms that everybody else does too, according to this Wired article.

The study titled “The desire to expel unselfish members from the group” (abstract only) is based on observing study participants — psychology undergrad students — playing a game. They were told they will be playing over a computer network with four other students, who in fact were a computer program:

Each participant (real and virtual) was given a pool of points in each round of the game. These could be kept or put into a central kitty for the team. Putting points into the kitty doubled their value. The participant was then allowed to withdraw up to a quarter of the points contributed by the other four into their own personal bank. They were encouraged to withdraw less than a quarter of the points by being told that if they left them in the kitty they would have an improved chance of winning an unspecified bonus for the group. When the game was over, participants could convert their points into meal vouchers.

Sure, there was that one guy — real or otherwise — who collected points but only contributed a miserly amount of his own points. No one wanted to work with him, of course. But a surprising finding was that no one wanted to work for the Mother Theresa-type either — the person who unselfishly gave up points and only took a few themselves.

“It doesn’t matter that the overall welfare of the group or the task at hand is better served by someone’s unselfish behavior. What is objectively good, you see as subjectively bad,” said study co-author Craig Parks of Washington State University.

So sit and relax into that third game of Minesweeper, knowing that at least you’re not doing anything unlikable like raising the bar or anything like that.

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