Topic: Science & Technology
A New Scientist report entitled "Pay up, you are being watched" describes a study which provides a clue as to why people behave altruistically.
[Researchers Terry Burnham] and Brian Hare pitted 96 volunteers against each other anonymously in games where they donate money or withhold it. Donating into a communal pot would yield the most money, but only if others donated too.If true, this suggests that people who act altruistically may actually be doing so for deep-seated subconscious reasons, and not necessarily because they are consciously seeking favours in return.
The researchers split the group into two. Half made their choices undisturbed at a computer screen, while the others were faced with a photo of Kismet - ostensibly not part of the experiment. The players who gazed at the cute robot gave 30 per cent more to the pot than the others. Burnham and Hare believe that at some subconscious level they were aware of being watched. Being seen to be generous might mean an increased chance of receiving gifts in future or less chance of punishment, they will report in Human Nature.
This seems a reasonable postulate. People do not always act on purely rational grounds. The subconscious plays an important part. After all, isn't that how conscience works?