Older people are more philanthropic than young people, according to new research from the University of Birmingham, led by researchers at the University’s School of Psychology.
This study is unique in that it studies prosocial behavior, focusing on people’s willingness to exert physical effort, rather than donating money or time, to help others.
Prosocial physical exertion
For the study, the team evaluated a group of 95 adults aged 18 to 36 and a group of 92 adults aged 55 to 85. Each participant made 150 decisions on whether or not to grab a hand dynamometer, a gripping force measuring device, with 6 different strength levels.
Before the experiment, the researchers measured each person’s maximum grip strength, to make sure that the amount of effort people had to put in was the same for everyone and was not affected by people’s strength.
For each decision, participants were told whether they would work to earn money for themselves or for someone else. They were first asked to decide whether they would be willing to put in an effort to make money or not. If they accepted the offer, they had to exert enough force to get the money.
The results showed that when the task was easy, the young and the elderly were equally willing to work for others, but when the task was more demanding, the elderly were more willing to work to help others.
In contrast, young adults were more selfish and much more likely to put in more effort to benefit from it.