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Lab of Misfits
Science of Giving

This is part of the Human perceptionprogramme



Experiment 2

The experiment conducted during Lates night in October 2011 compared the amount that people were willing to donate publicly versus privately in return for a cocktail. The most interesting finding was that the public male donations were higher than the private male donations, but the same for females.

'Costly signalling' theory suggests that men's altruism to strangers (as opposed to family and friends) is motivated partly by a desire to demonstrate their qualities as a mate. So, for our second donation experiment, run at the Lates in January 2012, we decided to ask two main questions:

1) What exactly is being signalled in altruistic or generous behaviour? Kindness? Wealth?
2) Is the male strategy for demonstrating their fitness-as-mates (i.e. donating more) actually effective in the eyes of females?

On the night, men were asked to donate between £3 and £7 in return for a cocktail, and got their photo taken holding their donation. The photos were projected on the wall and also fed to a bank of computers, where women rated the men's attractiveness. A total of 475 people took part.

Our most interesting finding was that this kind of signalling did not work, and in fact was detrimental to perceived male attractiveness. This means that, on average, the higher the donation made, the lower the attractiveness score that was given. This held true even when age was held constant. Further testing of this idea led us to conclude that the negative relationship between donation amount and attractiveness rating was causal – i.e. the fact of donating more caused a lower attractiveness rating. (We explored this relationship further in Experiment 3, in which we forced females to consciously notice the donation amount.)

For this second experiment our key findings from the night are as follows:

• Males overestimated their expected rating by females by about 30%. This overestimation was even more pronounced for single men.

• Males in a relationship donated more (£4.20) compared to single males (£3.90).

• Males in a relationship are rated as more attractive (4.29 out of 10–56th centile) than those that are single (4.04 out of 10–45th centile)

• Men in relationships estimate receiving a lower attractiveness rating (5.71/10) than single males (5.91/10).

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Donor Mosaic

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