How to give up your cake – and eat it, too

By Emma Young You’re in a packed food court, searching for somewhere to sit. Just as you spot a communal table with two free spaces, one much bigger and more comfortable-looking than the other, you realise there’s a person standing beside you with a tray and they are looking for somewhere to sit, too. What do you do? Rush to take the better seat – but appear selfish? Or let them have it, so seem generous – but eat your lunch in cramped discomfort?  A new paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology suggests that you should do neither. Instead, you should say something like, “Oh, go ahead – you choose a seat”, and the odds are that she or he will not only leave the better seat for you, but also think that you’re generous.  Psychologists have generally viewed this kind of scenario as either/or – you can either be worse off materially but see your reputation enhanced, or vice versa. But it doesn’t have to be this way, according the results of eight studies involving imaginary and real-world settings, by Michael Kardas, Alex Shaw and Eugene Caruso at the University of Chicago.  Using a group of 300 online volunteers, they first explored how often people abdicate decisions about distributing two items of unequal value (like a “premium” granola bar and a “low-quality” version) between themselves and a friend. Nearly 70 per cent said they’d choose to abdicate the de...
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