Researchers at Harvard University have created a computer game that mimics online social networks. Using a standard measure of generosity, they found that selfish behavior quickly spreads throughout a group and that, if given a choice, generous people will choose to dissociate themselves with the mean ones. The more often selfish individuals were shunned from the social group by generous ones, the more likely they were to change their behavior and be more giving.
What’s the Big Idea?
Social research demonstrates that humans initiate relationships by being generous until the other person shows a mean streak. Then both individuals begin to hoard their resources. This is called the tit-for-tat phenomenon, known all too well to anyone who has cohabitated. But unlike tit-for-tat, social retaliation can influence the behavior of selfish people who do not want to be excluded from a larger network of friends and associates and who are willing to share a little more to have more friends.