By Olivia Solon, Wired UK
Unselfish workers who are the first to offer to help with projects are among those that co-workers like the least, according to four separate social psychology studies.
In the most recent study, entitled “The Desire to Expel Unselfish Members from the Group,” psychologists found that unselfish colleagues come to be resented because they “raise the bar” for what’s expected of everyone. As a result, workers feel the new standard will make everyone else look bad.
“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,” said study co-author Craig Parks of Washington State University. The paper was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
Participants—undergraduate psychology students—were asked to play a game over a computer network with four other students. These players were actually just a part of a computer program.
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.
The experiment was initially designed to study the expected social exclusion of cheats, but the unselfish player was put in as a control.
After the game was over, participants were asked who they would like to play with again. Most participants later said they would not want to work with the greedy colleague again—an expected result seen in previous studies.
An unexpected result was the fact that a majority of participants also said they would not want to work with the unselfish colleague again. They frequently said, “the person is making me look bad” or is breaking the rules. Occasionally, they would suspect the person had ulterior motives.
Parks said he would like to look at how the do-gooders themselves react to being rejected. While some may indeed have ulterior motives, he said it’s more likely they actually are working for the good of an organization.
Excluded from the group, they may say, “enough already” and simply give up. “But it’s also possible,” he said, “that they may actually try even harder.”
luded from the group, they may say, “enough already” and simply give up. “But it’s also possible,” he said, “that they may actually try even harder.”