Nature & ABC News In Science
It seems that karma really does exist. A new study has shown that acting selflessly has rewards, even from those you haven’t helped.
Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Limnology in Germany staged a series of complex computerised social games with 114 students. Their results appear in this week’s Nature.
(…) The second game was more complex. Called the ‘indirect reciprocity game’, the players were allocated potential donor or receiver status for each game, playing each role at least once, and donors were asked if they would give to a receiver. There was no direct reciprocity — if you gave to someone, they would not be giving back. Nevertheless, players who helped others were given support later, based on their ‘reputation‘.
By mixing up the order of the games, the researchers could watch how expectations affected behaviour. Contributions in the public good game fell dramatically if it was played several times in a row. But when it was alternated with the indirect reciprocity game, contributions maintained a high level.
This is because players could see the history of all the other players. If a player hadn’t contributed to the public purse, they were unlikely to benefit when the indirect reciprocity game was played.
So the next time you think about underpaying your share of a restaurant bill, throwing your rubbish out the car window, or using someone else’s milk in the office fridge, remember — what goes around comes around. [*]