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Does it pay to be generous?

Does it pay to be generous?

Being generous is more attractive than wealth in a potential partner, a new study claims.

Researchers at University College London conducted an experiment involving 800 people. They asked participants to play an online game with a partner, where wealth was created by giving someone $2.50 or 50 cents, and allowing them to share half or 20 per cent of it.

Lead author Nichola Raihani found that players who had a lot of money to give but wouldn't part with much of it were not very popular, and generous players who were poorer were more popular.

It was the proportion of money that the player chose to give that made people like them or not and decide whether to play with them again; the absolute amount of money they received didn't seem to matter as much.

“From an evolutionary point of view, this is the sensible thing to do. You don’t want to partner up with someone who is always giving you the short end of the stick, you want someone willing to go 50/50 as a longer-term strategy,” said Raihani. “In hunter–gatherer societies, for example, those who hunt successfully and are also willing to share the spoils with others form more profitable relationships than those who are successful but do not share.”

The survey also found that people typically prioritise willingness to help in a partner or friend when wealth is unstable. This was proven in the game by telling the “choosers” their rich partners may become poor, or vice versa.

Researchers did admit it is hard to do the exact same experiment with the most common things people look for in a partner though – such as intelligence, humour and good looks – as these tend to be much more stable traits than wealth.

But, in the experiment, the majority of people picked “poor-fair” partners over “rich-stingy” ones even when wealth was unchangeable.

The study was first published in the journal Royal Society of Open Science.

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