Being mean bigger deal than being nice

Dec. 23, 2008 at 1:07 AM

CHICAGO, Dec. 23 (UPI) -- In everyday social exchanges, being mean to people has a lot more impact than being nice, University of Chicago researchers suggest.

Lead author Boaz Keysar said feeling slighted can have a bigger difference on how a person responds than being the recipient of perceived generosity -- even if the net value of the social transaction is the same.

"Negative reciprocity -- or taking -- escalates," Keysar said in a statement.

The study was based on giving-and-taking games conducted on students and people in downtown Chicago. The games provided data on how people respond to give-and-take social exchanges.

"For instance in driving, if you are kind and let someone go in front of you, that driver may be considerate in response," Keysar said. "But if you cut someone off, that person may react very aggressively, and this could escalate to road rage."

The situation can escalate when the person doing the slighting doesn't appreciate how strongly the slight is being experienced, Keysar said.

"The one receiving the slight cannot imagine that the slighter lacks that appreciation," he said. "And so it goes, because of such differential perception, they respond more and more strongly. Small slights could escalate to unbelievable, irrational feuds."

The findings are published in the journal Psychological Science.

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