Sunday, January 09, 2011

Most cultures punish the atypically generous

All cultures punish "cheaters". That's unsurprising.

What's surprising is that most cultures punish the atypically generous ...


... the U.S, Australia and the U.K. subjects were much less likely to punish players who HAD cooperated by contributing to the group project. In other societies, ‘[m]any subjects engaged in anti-social punishment; that is, they paid to reduce the earnings of ‘overly’ cooperative individuals (those who contributed more than the punisher did).’ ...

Looking at the graph some cultures punish atypical generosity even more than "free riders". On visual inspection I see three grades of anti-social punishment (emphases mine) ...

  • Low levels: US, Australia, UK, Switzerland, China, Germany
  • Mid level: Denmark, Ukraine, Korea, Turkey, Russia (I suspect Japan would resemble Korea)
  • High level: Saudi Arabia, Greece, Oman

I suspect Canada would fall between Germany and Denmark, at the high end of low punishment. I grew up in Canada, where we understood it was rude to be exceptionally good in any way. I wonder if what's measured here is really a general response to being exceptional (talented, witty, generous, etc) rather than to a specific response to "excessive" generosity. It may also be that in some cultures there is a strong duty to reciprocate generosity (Japan?), so the generous act can be a bit of an unwanted gift.

I think these responses are important to understand -- particularly for those whose programming favors generosity. Even in the US the naturally generous will work with people from cultures that may resent or feel burdened by an unsolicited gift. It is often wise to balance gifts with requests, providing an opportunity for the recipient to balance the scales. Most of all it may be wise to do deed invisibly, so nobody will feel burdened and the Samaritan will go unpunished.


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