Before making joint decisions with another person, such as where to eat or what movie to watch, the person usually has to go to a personal decision: should he follow his personal preference, or should he put his preferences aside to make the other person happy? Will he be selfish or selfless?
When two people both behave selfishly or both behave selflessly, the ultimate choice tends to be farther from what they originally wanted than when one is more selfish and one is more altruistic, according to a recent paper published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology.
A team of researchers asked study participants to watch a collection of videos, such as clips of Saturday Night Live, and rate how much they enjoyed each one. The participants also completed surveys to measure how selfish or altruistic they typically were. Two weeks later, the participants returned to the lab. They were divided into pairs and instructed to pick one video to watch together.
Compared to pairs with two relatively selfish or two relatively selfless individuals—judged by high or low scores on the selfishness survey—pairs in which one was more selfless and less selfish tended to choose videos that were closer to what each person genuinely preferred. A similar finding appeared when participants were primed to act more or less selfishly by reading a made-up news story.
“When we got selfish people together or altruistic people together, they kind of blew it,” says Michael Lowe, the lead author of the study and an assistant professor of marketing at Georgia Tech. “They ended up picking something that neither of them really wanted to watch.”
So why does this kind of phenomenon happen between two people with similar temperaments? And if one has to be selfish and one has to be altruistic, then when is it okay to be selfish?
Find out the answers on Psychology Today.
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