For Men, Online Generosity is a Competition

Credit: Raihani et al./Current Biology 2015

In competitive helping donations made to online fundraising pages,
males respond competitively to donations made by other males, but
only when giving to an attractive female fundraiser. Female donors
do not compete in this way. These findings suggest a role for sexual
selection in explaining conspicuous generosity.

A recent SNfW post, Would You Kill Hitler if You Could? Men Say Yes. Women Say No. Why?, has drawn more than a few comments on Stage32, a social network website for people in the film industry.  Here are just a few of the comments:
"Even that title is pigeon-holing people. Some men say Yes, Some women say no... although I read the link and it is wrong on so many levels."  ~ S.B.
"The gender stereotyping does a disservice to men and women." ~ K.R.
"This article takes an exaggerated, grandiose, hypothetical situation with layers and layers of complexities, and whittles it all down into a simplistic "yes" or "no" assessment, which seems to further support typical, historical gender biases."  ~ B.F.H.
The comment stream on Stage32 was fun to follow, and I learned from it. 

So, let's try a recently published study that pigeonholes men and see how that flies. 

In the study below, men are, well, characterized as being soft touches for a pretty woman fundraiser, with men donors competing with one another with donation dollars.  Which really shouldn't be to much of a shock to most men or women.  After all, as with clich├ęs, there is always an element of truth in a stereotype.  The problem comes when someone fails to see beyond the stereotype.

For example, there is research that men leave larger tips for women servers wearing a red shirt in part because of the sexual connotations of the color in the minds of men, I assume.  Wearing red does nothing for men servers' tips from either men or women.  (By the way, this is a suggestion for any struggling writer working as a server or barista.  Women, wear red.  Your tip income will go up. Men, you're on your own. Just trying to help.)

Here's the story.  Let the sparks fly.
*  *  *  *  *

Men will donate four times more money
to an attractive female fundraiser in response
to the contribution of another male.
If you are looking to raise money online for your favorite cause, listen up. A real-world analysis of human behavior reported in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on April 16 shows that men treat online giving as a competitive enterprise. Men will donate four times more money to an attractive female fundraiser in response to the contribution of another male.

Researchers say that they suspect this tendency is a subconscious part of human psychology that exists because it is (or was) evolutionarily beneficial to us.

"People are really generous and are right, a lot of the time, to say that their motives for giving to charity are altruistic, not self-serving," says Nichola Raihani of University College London. "This does not, however, preclude these motives from having evolved to benefit the donor in some way."

Men engage in "competitive helping"
While the findings make perfect sense from an evolutionary point of view, the researchers say they were still quite surprised at how clear it was from their real-world data that people -- and particularly men--engage in "competitive helping." Earlier studies had primarily involved games played in the lab.

In the new study, Raihani and Sarah Smith of the University of Bristol relied on a large, UK-based, online fundraising platform to test a key prediction of the competitive helping hypothesis: that males respond competitively to the generosity bids of other males in the presence of attractive females. On the platform, people host fundraising pages including their personal information -- name, photo, charity, and the event they are being sponsored for -- and collect donations, mostly from people they know. Donations are made and posted sequentially, along with the name of the donor (unless they've opted for anonymity).

"This creates a potential tournament in which donors may compete by responding to how much others have given," Smith says.

Online Fundraising
(Successful Fundraising)
by Sfr

Click on image above to
order from Powell'
Smith's earlier work showed that existing donations on a page act as a kind of "anchor" for current donors. In other words, seeing a small or a large donation influenced what subsequent donors were willing to contribute. Raihani and Smith wanted to know whether the behavior of donors would also be influenced by the gender and attractiveness of the fundraiser, along with the gender of the previous donor. And, indeed, it most certainly was.

That's not to say that anyone is really making these decisions about giving in a conscious or purposeful way, the researchers say.

"We don't think that males are seeing large donations from other males to attractive female fundraisers, and then thinking 'Yeah, I'll give more than him because she will find me more attractive then.' In fact, I think that is quite unlikely," Raihani says.

"I think it is more likely that humans have an evolved psychology that motivates us to behave in ways that would have been, on average, adaptive in our evolutionary past -- and may still be nowadays also."

Seed fundraising campaigns with large donations
The findings do suggest ways to improve the success of fundraising campaigns. First of all, fundraisers should smile. The attractiveness ratings of female fundraisers had a lot to do with their facial expression. And it may pay off to seed a campaign with larger donations early.

"Large donations can elicit other large donations, so fundraisers might raise more if they get their most generous friends or family to donate early in the appeal," Raihani says.

For anyone trying to raise capital for a project, this is something to build into your fundraising plan.  That, and asking an attractive woman friend to front your campaign.  (Am I in trouble now.  Just wait until readers dig into the research below.)

Related stories:

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Story Source:  Materials provided by Cell Press. Raihani, N. and Smith, S. Competitive Helping in Online Giving. Current Biology, 2015.


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