Washington, Dec 17: Focusing on the negative makes evolutionary sense, says Kurt Grey, assistant professor of social psychology at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, whose latest study shows greed may exert greater power than generosity.
“If there is a tiger nearby, you really have to take notice or you’ll get eaten,” he said, explaining the thesis for lay people. “If there is a beautiful sunset or delicious food, it’s not a life-or-death situation.”
Greed or looking out for ourselves is more powerful than true acts of generosity, says a new study, the first systematic investigation of “paying generosity forward”, a popular expression for extending generosity to others after someone has been generous to you.
The concept may be heartwarming, but instances of carrying generosity forward are less common than repaying greed with greed, the Journal of Experimental Psychology reports.
“The bulk of the scientific research on this concept has focused on good behaviour, and we wondered what would happen when you looked at the entire gamut of human behaviours,” said Gray, who conducted the study with Harvard researchers.
In five experiments involving money or work, participants who received an act of generosity didn’t pay generosity forward any more than those who had been treated equally, according to a North Carolina statement.
But participants who had been the victims of greed were more likely to pay greed forward to a future recipient, creating a negative chain reaction.
Women and men showed the same levels of generosity and greed in the study.
The results confirmed the researchers’ hypothesis that greed would prevail because negative stimuli have more powerful effects on thoughts and actions than positive stimuli.