Scientists Gave People $10,000 To Study How Generous They Would Be

Generosity Study Suggests Humans Use Gifted Funds for Good

Photo: CHAOSS/Depositphotos

What would you do with $10,000 if someone gave it to you out of the blue? The rules are simple, you must spend it in three months, not save or invest. What would you buy? Where would you go? And who would you help? While this experiment might sound like a dream, it was a reality for 200 people in a study conducted by researchers from the University of British Columbia, Yale University, and Technology, Entertainment, Design (TED). The study's results were announced in Psychological Science. As it would turn out, people are surprisingly generous with their sudden windfalls of cash.

You might be wondering where all this money came from in the first place. The experiment was funded by wealthy donors who were interested in supporting this inquiry into mankind's goodness. Participants were then found through TED's social media, although they did not know what sort of experiment they were signing up for. Two hundred people were chosen from around the globe, structured to include a mix of generally wealthy countries and less wealthy countries. The nations included Brazil, Indonesia, Kenya, Australia, Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom. Each individual was given $10,000 to spend within three months. They could not save or invest it, but otherwise the sky was the limit. They also had to keep records of their spending.

Some of the participants were obliged by the study organizers to document their spending on social media, adding an element of social pressure and applause. Across the participants, the additional money increased incomes by 10% for some and up to 125% for others. Yet the team found that people are generous across the board, no matter how impactful the cash. Of the non-posting group, 15% of the their income was donated to charity, while the posters (perhaps swayed by kudos or pressure) donated 23%. Across the board, 68% of the money was spent on what the researchers termed prosocial spending. This spending benefited others beyond the spender—for example, taking a friend to dinner. People got creative. One woman gave away all of the money in $500 segments towards community causes. Others donated to loved ones in need.

So humans are not as selfish as some might think. Similarly, their spending habits sometimes defy cynical prediction—for example, people experiencing homelessness who received money in another study spent it on true needs, not unkind stereotypes. This knowledge can inform social policy, and it can also give a sense of hope. Additionally, donating to others has a selfish perk—it makes you happier.

What happens when you give someone $10,000 and tell them to spend it in three months? A study found a lot of prosocial spending.

Generosity Study Suggests Humans Use Gifted Funds for Good

Photo: ALEXKALINA/Depositphotos

h/t: [Big Think]

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Madeleine Muzdakis

Madeleine Muzdakis is a Contributing Writer at My Modern Met and a historian of early modern Britain & the Atlantic world. She holds a BA in History and Mathematics from Brown University and an MA in European & Russian Studies from Yale University. Madeleine has worked in archives and museums for years with a particular focus on photography and arts education. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys hiking, film photography, and studying law while cuddling with her cat Georgia.
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