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Way In

Nice and quick

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If you want to be generous, don't think about it for too long. Research suggests that making a snap decision brings out our altruism, but taking longer to mull it over encourages us to be selfish.

The research was carried out by David Rand, Joshua Greene and Martin Nowak at Harvard, and published in Nature, with the title 'Spontaneous giving and calculated greed'.  

They got candidates to play a game where each person has money and has to decide how much to put in a central pot. The pot is doubled and shared out evenly. So if everyone puts in, everyone does better, but if everyone puts in except me, I do better still.

They found that those who made a decision in less than ten seconds put in on average two-thirds of their money. Those who deliberated for longer put in 53%.

Six other studies confirmed that if people took less time - or were given less time - to think about their decisions, the decisions tended to be more altruistic.

'Although the cold logic of self-interest is seductive,' the paper concludes, 'our first impulse is to cooperate'.

So if you always thought people are good at heart, you may be right. But if you want them to be good to you, hurry them.