PULLMAN, Wash. -- You know those goody-two-shoes who volunteer for every task
and thanklessly take on the annoying details nobody else wants to deal with?
That's right: Other people really can't stand them. Four separate studies led
by a Washington State University social psychologist have found that unselfish
workers who are the first to throw their hat in the ring are also among those
that coworkers most want to, in effect, vote off the island. "It's not hard
to find examples but we were the first to show this happens and have explanations
for why," said Craig Parks, lead author of "The Desire to Expel Unselfish Members
from the Group" in the current Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
The phenomenon has implications for business work groups, volunteer organizations,
non-profit projects, military units, and environmental efforts, an interest
of Parks' coauthor and former PhD student, Asako Stone. Parks and Stone found
that unselfish colleagues come to be resented because they "raise the bar" for
what is expected of everyone. As a result, workers feel the new standard will
make everyone else look bad. It doesn't matter that the overall welfare of the
group or the task at hand is better served by someone's unselfish behavior,
Parks said. "What is objectively good, you see as subjectively bad," he said.
The do-gooders are also seen as deviant rule breakers. It's as if they're giving
away Monopoly money so someone can stay in the game, irking other players to
The studies gave participants — introductory psychology students — pools
of points that they could keep or give up for an immediate reward of meal service
vouchers. Participants were also told that giving up points would improve the
group's chance of receiving a monetary reward. In reality, the participants
were playing in fake groups of five. Most of the fictitious four would make
seemingly fair swaps of one point for each voucher, but one of the four would
often make lopsided exchanges — greedily giving up no points and taking a lot
of vouchers, or unselfishly giving up a lot of points and taking few vouchers.
Most participants later said they would not want to work with the greedy colleague
again — an expected result seen in previous studies. But a majority of participants
also said they would not want to work with the unselfish colleague again. They
frequently said, "the person is making me look bad" or is breaking the rules.
Occasionally, they would suspect the person had ulterior motives.Parks said
he would now like to look at how the do-gooders themselves react to being rejected.
While some may indeed have ulterior motives, he said it's more likely they actually
are working for the good of an organization. Excluded from the group, they may
say, "enough already" and simply give up. "But it's also possible," he said,
"that they may actually try even harder."