Why Are We So Uncharitable to Those Doing Good Deeds?

The ability to take the perspective of another individual is something that emerges during development. Before the age of five (or thereabouts), children don’t really know or care what other people think of them and don’t attempt to curate their own reputation at all. It is only when they are around eight years old that children start to understand fully how their actions make them look and to interpret other people’s prosocial behavior in terms of self-serving motives. Because we understand that good deeds can heap benefits on to the beneficent individual, we try to infer whether these acts were performed in pursuit of these benefits to their reputation or prestige (in which case we frequently withhold them). Because cooperators can take the moral high ground, they are sometimes treated with antipathy, even when the motives underlying their actions are not in question.

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