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Humble Prominent People are More Generous

Humble Prominent People are More Generous

New research discovers that people who believe they “earned” their high social status are often less generous than influential people who accredited their prominent position to other factors.

In fact, people who were generous on their path to high social status, may become less generous once they accomplish their prominence.

Michigan State University scholar Nicholas Hays, led a series of six scientific studies and found that people with high social status who didn’t believe they earned that status, were much more generous than high-status people who felt they deserved the respect and admiration of others.

Prominent people who don’t feel their status is fair and equitable become more generous with others to alleviate that sense of inequity, he explained.

“The effects of social status on generosity are contingent on deservingness, meaning that high-ranking people don’t always behave selfishly, as a significant amount of research suggests, but do indeed care about whether or not they deserve their position,” said Hays, assistant professor of management.

The findings are published online in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

In separate studies with more than 1,200 total participants, Hays and Steven Blader, professor at New York University, examined the effects of social status on generosity.

In one study they surveyed 255 MBA students organized into 51 teams twice during a six-month project on the students’ willingness to help their teammates and on their perceptions of their own and their teammates’ social status.

The research project is one of the first of its kind.

Previous studies have looked at the effects of power — which is defined as control over resources, whereas status is about being respected by others — and found that powerful people tend to become more selfish regardless of fairness or equity.

But Hays and Blader, in all six studies, found that while high-status people who felt worthy of their rank were indeed less generous, high-status people who felt unworthy were actually more generous.

Prior research has also found that generosity often leads to high social status.

The current study takes that a step further by considering what happens after people have attained high status.

“We demonstrate that generosity may not persist once people achieve that high status,” Hays said. “It depends on whether they feel that status is deserved.”

Source: Michigan State University

Humble Prominent People are More Generous

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Humble Prominent People are More Generous. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 21, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 22 Jul 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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