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May 28, 2014 03:37 PM EDT

People Who Are Mean With Their Money Are Trusted Less

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People distrust others who are mean with their money, according to a recent study.

Researchers from Oxford University and the European University Institute found that people are more responsive to others who are generous with their money than those who are cheap or mean. They discovered that past displays of generosity are widely regarded as a key attribute when looking for indictors of trustworthiness when other information about a person's reputation is not available. 

"When acts of generosity occur naturally with no concern for how they are perceived by others, they can be effective signals of trustworthiness," Dr. Wojtek Przepiorka from the Department of Sociology at Oxford University, said in a statement. "Charity balls are places where people can openly display their generosity, but in this case, because people know they are going to be observed, this might be a strategic gesture and less telling of their true character. We regard acts of genuine generosity as those produced spontaneously and these are widely seen as a reliable indicator of trustworthiness even when they are small gestures. '

For the study, volunteers had no face-to-face contact but played a series of interactive games. They had to make decisions about whom to trust in their dealings with other players, based on information they were given on the level of these other players' generosity in previous games.

First, participants played the Dictator Game, where they were put into pairs, and in each pair one was given £8. These players could then choose the 'mean' option of giving £1 or the "generous" option of giving £3.50 to the other player.

In the second stage of the experiment, participants played the Trust Game. In this game, the players were again put into pairs but with a different partner. Then, one player could first decide whether to keep or send money to their partner. Sending the money would multiply the amount, but now their partner could either send a larger share back in return, or simply pocket the money. However, before the first player decided whether to send the money, he or she received information about what the other player had done in the Dictator Game. The players could truthfully reveal, hide or lie about whether they had been generous or mean.

Researchers found that about 65 percent of participants in the Trust Game sent money to those who had already shown generosity in the earlier game. Only 29 percent of players sent money to partners after learning those partners had been mean or had remained silent about what they did in the earlier Dictator Game.

The findings were recently published in the journal PLOS One.

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