Can altruism get you ahead in the shopping queue?
Altruism is understandable on some levels. You can see why a parent will sacrifice for their child as at a base level it is in their genetic interest to do so. Within family or friendship groups you could believe that people will help another with the expectation of that help being reciprocated in the future. So why would someone help a stranger that they will probably never see again and to whom they have no relation? That was the question that was seeking an answer in a new study.
The results showed that people were more willing to help out the person with a single item the more items they had in their own trolley.
The study design involved a supermarket checkout queue where a confederate of the researchers approached queue. The confederate was either carrying a bottle of water or a bottle of beer to purchase. What the researchers watched for was whether other people in the queue would allow the person with just one item to push in ahead of them. The researchers also counted how many items each person had in their trolley.
The results showed that people were more willing to help out the person with a single item the more items they had in their own trolley. However, they were much less likely to help out the man if he was carrying beer as opposed to water.
The theory goes that the behaviour of people towards strangers depends on two variables: the cost-benefit ratio of the helpful act and the perceived nature of the individual being helped. So the more a person has in their own trolley, the more benefit the other will receive and so the more likely they are to help. In other words, people are more likely to help when the benefits to others are large but the cost to them is small. However, people were not so ready to help a person carrying a bottle of beer. Previous research has shown that people regard beer drinkers as lacking responsibility and morality. So it is likely that based on this people think it unlikely that the beer drinker will pass on the act of generosity in return, so the generous act is one that is done to facilitate society as a whole even though the individuals involved may never interact again.
There’s another reason for you to drink water.