Gen­eros­ity pays off in the long run

The Sun (Malaysia) - - GOOD VIBES -

WHAT do you look for part­ner?

Surely that de­pends on what the part­ner is for – you’d prob­a­bly want a busi­ness part­ner to be in­no­va­tive, a choir buddy to be mu­si­cal and a ro­man­tic part­ner to be at­trac­tive and funny.

But how do such qual­i­ties and skills com­pare with sim­ply be­ing de­cent, as in fair and gen­er­ous?

Hu­mans are un­usu­ally pro-so­cial – we rou­tinely co­op­er­ate with non­rel­a­tives to an ex­tent that far sur­passes that of any other liv­ing crea­ture.

Nev­er­the­less, there is a sig­nif­i­cant down­side to help­ing oth­ers – the risk of be­ing suck­ered by a cheat­ing in­di­vid­ual, some­one who takes the ben­e­fits of co­op­er­a­tion with­out con­tribut­ing to the pot.

Un­der­stand­ing how hu­mans form mu­tu­ally pro­duc­tive re­la­tion­ships while, at the same time, avoid­ing so­cial par­a­sites, is the key to un­der­stand­ing the evo­lu­tion of ex­treme so­cial­ity in hu­mans.

Rep­u­ta­tion – a sig­nal about your pre­vi­ous be­hav­iour that ob­servers can use to in­fer how you might in a be­have in the fu­ture – lies at the heart of the is­sue.

One ma­jor rea­son why in­di­vid­u­als care about, and in­vest in, their rep­u­ta­tion is be­cause we eval­u­ate and choose part­ners for so­cial and ro­man­tic in­ter­ac­tions on the ba­sis of this in­for­ma­tion.

From an evo­lu­tion­ary point of view, we should use this clue to pick the best part­ners for what­ever in­ter­ac­tion we are do­ing.

But what does best ac­tu­ally mean?

The best part­ner could be one who is the most able to give you things, such as a busi­ness part­ner with great wealth, knowl­edge and con­tacts.

Or the best per­son may be some­one slightly lower-achiev­ing who is more open to share the qual­i­ties they have – in other words, the most gen­er­ous.

In many cases, abil­ity and will­ing­ness to give might be cor­re­lated: it is easy to be gen­er­ous if you have plen­ti­ful re­sources.

But what if they don’t line up so neatly? Do we pre­fer the ‘high­est qual­ity’ part­ners even if they’re a bit stingy, or do we go for ‘lower qual­ity’ but fairer in­di­vid­u­als?

Some ev­i­dence from hunter­gath­erer so­ci­eties has shown that gen­eros­ity is in­deed more im­por­tant than hunt­ing skills in de­ter­min­ing the pop­u­lar­ity of hunters within their so­cial net­works.

The best hunters may catch more meat, but it is those who share what they catch who are pre­ferred as hunt­ing part­ners.

Our study sup­ports th­ese find­ings: the abil­ity to give is valu­able, but will­ing­ness to give is in­dis­pens­able.

Could this hold true for ro­man­tic re­la­tion­ships?

It’s hard to do the ex­act same ex­per­i­ment with the most com­mon things we look for in a part­ner – 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 even when wealth was un­change­able.

So there may be a sim­i­lar pat­tern in dat­ing where gen­eros­ity or fair­ness could trump looks or in­tel­li­gence.

Fu­ture work could ex­plore the rel­a­tive im­por­tance of th­ese traits when it comes to dat­ing.

Other qual­i­ties, such as wealth or so­cial sta­tus, tend to be more change­able over time and, there­fore, a bet­ter anal­ogy when it comes to dat­ing.

Sta­tus may, for ex­am­ple, change dur­ing tran­si­tions in life – you may have high sta­tus in high school, but not in univer­sity.

We would cer­tainly pre­dict that peo­ple will value fair­ness more than so­cial sta­tus dur­ing such tran­si­tion times, and will value so­cial sta­tus more when those suc­cesses are sta­ble across time and sit­u­a­tions.

So the next time you find your­self in a so­cial sit­u­a­tion where you’re keen to make an im­pres­sion, be­ing fair and gen­er­ous is a good place to start.

There’s ev­ery chance it could pay off. – The In­de­pen­dent

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