People love to hate do-gooders, especially at work

Sometimes it doesn’t pay to be a do-gooder, according to a new University of Guelph study.

Highly cooperative and generous people can attract hatred and social punishment, especially in competitive circumstances, says study author and psychology professor Pat Barclay.

“Most of the time we like the cooperators, the good guys. We like it when the bad guys get their comeuppance, and when non-cooperators are punished,” he says.

“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.”

The study, conducted by Barclay and undergraduate student Aleta Pleasant and published in Psychological Science, found that cooperative behaviour attracted punishment most often in groups whose members compete among themselves.

This was the case even when punishing or derogating the do-gooder lessened benefits for the entire group, including the punisher.

Without competition, cooperation increased, the study says.

Suspicion, jealousy or hostility toward those who seem better or nicer appears to run deep in the psychological makeup of humans, Barclay says, adding that social dynamics may be the cause.

“You can imagine within an organization today the attitude, ‘Hey, you’re working too hard and making the rest of us look bad,’” he says.

“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.”

Sometimes it doesn’t pay to be a do-gooder, according to a new University of Guelph study.

Highly cooperative and generous people can attract hatred and social punishment, especially in competitive circumstances, says study author and psychology professor Pat Barclay.

“Most of the time we like the cooperators, the good guys. We like it when the bad guys get their comeuppance, and when non-cooperators are punished,” he says.

“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.”

The study, conducted by Barclay and undergraduate student Aleta Pleasant and published in Psychological Science, found that cooperative behaviour attracted punishment most often in groups whose members compete among themselves.

This was the case even when punishing or derogating the do-gooder lessened benefits for the entire group, including the punisher.

Without competition, cooperation increased, the study says.

Suspicion, jealousy or hostility toward those who seem better or nicer appears to run deep in the psychological makeup of humans, Barclay says, adding that social dynamics may be the cause.

“You can imagine within an organization today the attitude, ‘Hey, you’re working too hard and making the rest of us look bad,’” he says.

“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.”

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