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Culture & Religion

Why Strangers Benefit More From Our Rationality Than Family

Given a choice between gifting a smaller reward now and waiting to gift a larger reward later, it’s more likely that you’ll forego rationality and choose immediate gratification if the beneficiary is related to you.

What’s the Latest Development?

A recent study published in PLOS ONE revealed that, when offered the choice of gifting a small amount of money immediately or a larger amount later, test subjects were more likely to go for immediate gratification when the beneficiary of that gift was themselves or a close family member, and less likely to do so when the connection between themselves and the beneficiary was more distant. In fact, those that benefited the most financially from delayed gratification were complete strangers. The study was done with undergraduates from the University of Lincoln and the University of Nottingham. 

What’s the Big Idea?

It’s the first study of its kind to demonstrate the importance of the relationship, as measured on a family tree, between the gifter and the recipient; past studies did not attempt to identify a specific connection. “When we care about the people affected by our decisions, we tend to be more impulsive” even if it means they’ll receive less money, says study co-lead Fenja Ziegler. She adds that the findings have implications “for instances where difficult decisions must be made by proxy, such as when family members and medical professionals are discussing end-of-life choices for terminally-ill patients.”

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