Workers who go out of their way to help others out with projects or who make sacrifices for the wider group are likely to be disliked by co-workers, according to four separate social psychology studies. This is because cooperative and community-minded acts are perceived to set behavioural standards too high and make others look bad.
The most recent study, entitled “The Desire to Expel Unselfish Members from the Group”, was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Undergraduate participants in the research were asked to play a game over a computer network with four other students who unbeknownst to the participant were in fact part of a computer program.
The Wire explains:
“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.”
“Most of the fictitious four competitors playing against each participant would make seemingly fair swaps of putting points into the kitty and taking points for themselves. But one of the four often would make lopsided exchanges — greedily giving up no points and taking a lot from others or unselfishly giving up a lot of points and taking few for themselves.”
It was expected that greedy or cheating players would be exclude, but it was the less selfish players who were put out of control.
Said co-author of the study, Craig Parks of Washington State University: “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.”
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