Dan Vergano of the Chicago Sun Times has an interesting piece on the psychology of giving. We excerpt it below.
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During the holiday season, some might quibble with the notion that it’s better to give than receive. But what about taking?
“Nobody likes that,” says psychologist Boaz Keysar of the University of Chicago.
In experiments described in the Psychological Science journal, Keysar and colleagues played a game with volunteers to see how they responded to being given cash or having it taken away.
Walkie-talkie-equipped study researchers approached 100 people on a Chicago beach and asked them to take part in an experiment.
In one group, each player was given an envelope with $10 and told that another unseen person was going to take some of that money. Ostensibly, the amount was determined by a random number drawn from a hat and conveyed by walkie-talkie. But, in reality, the amount taken was always $5.
In the other group, each player was told that another, unseen person had an envelope with $10 and was going to give some of that money to him or her. Again, the amount given was $5.
Then, the members of each group were told they were being given $10 but were asked to give some of that money to the unseen person.
People who had just been unexpectedly “given” cash typically decided to hand over $6 to the other person. But, even though they knew it was just a game, the people who had cash “taken” from them gave only about $4.50.
“People perceive an intention to harm them from the taking side, and they act on it to punish the other person,” says social psychologist David Schroeder of the University of Arkansas-Fayetteville, who wasn’t part of the study.