Why people tend to hate do-gooders, University of Guelph researchers explore

By Marina Wang

Anyone who’s felt the urge to snuff-out the class goody-two-shoes isn’t acting alone, according to a study from the University of Guelph. According to the researchers, particularly generous and cooperative group members can attract hatred and social punishment from their peers, especially in competitive environments.

According to psychology professor Pat Barclay, most of the time people like generous cooperators more, “but some of the time, cooperators are the ones that get punished. People will hate on the really good guys. This pattern has been found in every culture in which it has been looked at,” he said.

“You can imagine within an organization today the attitude, ‘Hey, you’re working too hard and making the rest of us look bad.’” said Barclay. “In some organizations people are known for policing how hard others work, to make sure no one is raising the bar from what is expected.”

For the control experiment, the researchers divided 117 participants into groups of four and were given an anonymous computer simulated exercise. They played five rounds of a game where they were given a sum of money and had the option to donate a certain amount to a charitable cause. The total of the group’s proceeds were doubled and returned back to the participants. Therefore, it would be the individual’s best interest to donate less, with the hopes that their groupmates would contribute more. Following this, it was revealed how much each groupmate donated, and team members were given an option to “punish” or reduce earnings, of their team mates.

To simulate a competitive condition, a fifth participant was added to observe the game. The observer could grant a reward to one of the team members without knowing the punishments that the players gave each other. The researchers found that under these competitive conditions, players gave higher punishments, and that the low cooperators would try to take down the “do-gooders” to reduce their cooperation and make themselves look better.

Barclay said this social behaviour can expand into areas such as environmental conservation—people that are not concerned with the environment risk hurting their reputation, so they may turn to degrading the motives of environmental activists.

“One potential benefit of this research is that by identifying and raising awareness of this competitive social strategy and what it does, maybe it will be less likely to work,” said Barclay.

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