is good for you
Helpful people are more popular
and powerful than their selfish peers.
New research by my University of Kent psychologist colleagues Charlie
Hardy and Mark Van Vugt indicates that nice guys come first. Their
study claims that individuals with a reputation for generosity and
altruism turn out to be the most valued members of their group.
Consequently generous people possess more authority and status
than their more self-oriented peers. They are also likely to be
more often chosen as partners and mates. It seems that generosity
is not only its own reward, it also provides individuals with greater
social opportunities then those who display selfish behaviour.
Perversely the confirmation that altruistic behaviour is valued
by normal human beings comes at a time when contemporary culture
- in Britain, at least - finds it difficult to celebrate genuine
acts of generosity.
We live in a world where psychologists dismiss altruistic behaviour
with the diagnosis of "compulsive helping". And apparently
too much altruism can lead to compassion fatigue. The act of looking
after elderly parents or relatives now earns us the official title
of a "carer" and some suggest that this role should be
Despite its reputation for greed, American society continues to
uphold the virtues of philanthropy and altruism. The act of giving
is culturally affirmed. Sadly, in Britain, news of philanthropy
often invites the response of scepticism if not cynicism.
Sections of the media find it difficult to believe that Bill Gates
and Warren Buffett genuinely want to do good with their billions.
We tend to regard such acts of altruism as calculated attempts to
purchase public recognition.
Yet generosity is a virtue through which a community comes to feel
at ease with itself. Deep inside we all know this is why we are
drawn to those displaying generous behaviour.
on The First Post, 28 October 2006