Research note: Reputation improves for those who give without calculation

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We often help others without weighing the costs and benefits — agreeing immediately to grant favors to friends, or taking on our romantic partners’ burdens without question. People even risk their own lives for a stranger, acting without considering the danger. This presents an evolutionary puzzle, because such uncalculating cooperation seems to ignore self-interest. So why do people help others without calculating, even when doing so might come at a great cost? New experiments conducted by researchers at Yale and Harvard help to demonstrate a new answer to this puzzle. “There are reputational benefits to being uncalculating,” said David Rand, senior author of the paper published July 18 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “People who are observed being generous without thought are viewed as more trustworthy than those who want to know the cost.” And participants were less likely to calculate the cost of helping another if they knew they were being observed. “This shows that wanting to maintain a good reputation can motivate uncalculating cooperation,” said Jillian Jordan, first author on the paper.

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