14 July 2008

Altruism wins over financial gain

'Out of the goodness of his heart' is a much mocked motivation for good deeds. But, according to research by the Stockholm School of Economics, it is often a more powerful incentive than financial gain. When Swedish women were asked to give blood, some voluntarily and some for a small sum of money, 52% were willing to do so for nothing, and only 30% for the money. And this echoes work by the University of Zurich with volunteers for political organisations: those who are not paid work more hours than those who are paid a little.

Apparently, the offer of money changes the nature of the action. What was the outworking of a desire to do good becomes a mere calculation of self-interest, as to whether the amount of money offered is sufficient to compensate for the inconvenience of doing good.

So, human nature - not so bad after all?

3 comments:

Ben Stevenson said...

Studies on whether human nature is good or bad produce conflicting results.

For example, the Milgram experiments found that about two thirds of people would be prepared to give an electric shock at potentially fatal levels when an authority figure told them to.

"Dr. Thomas Blass of the University of Maryland Baltimore County performed a meta-analysis on the results of repeated performances of the experiment. He found that the percentage of participants who are prepared to inflict fatal voltages remains remarkably constant, 61–66 percent, regardless of time or place.[7][8]"

In contrast, when a bakery lets customers pay for food without without seeing staff at a checkout, they believe that most people pay a fair price for their food, although they get a chance to pay less if they choose.

"So the thought was, someone can pour his own coffee, grab his own bagel, cut it himself, throw the money in, and walk out. We don’t touch 60 per cent of the transaction.”...
...“Our theory is that two per cent of our sales are being ripped off. ‘Ripped off’ in the sense that there are people who forget to pay or they make a mistake in paying, and then there are people who deliberately don’t pay....
...“But at the same time we figure we’re being overpaid by three per cent..."


Human nature is a mixture of good and bad, or in theological terms, original sin and the effects of the fall, and common grace.

"Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, 15since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts..." -- Romans 2:14-15

""There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God...." -- Romans 3:10-11

Rory said...

Assuming this was a good experiment and there were no outlying factors, this experiment proves nothing about 'human nature'. It just proves what a lot of people were willing to do.

If you asked anyone in the US if they knew the basics of using a computer, around 70 to 80% would probably say yes. If you asked this question 100 years ago, the answer would be no.

Surveys can be fine for judging human opinion or choice, but they tell you nothing about anything inherent in humans. Only Biology and Philosophy can do that.

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