If you need an American to do something, don't mention the common good, team work or caring for others. A new study in Psychological Science this month found that trying to get Americans to think and act interdependently failed--and may have even decreased motivation.
After being prompted to think about either independence or interdependence, a group of Stanford students were given difficult word puzzles to solve, and later, a physical challenge (squeezing a handgrip for as long as possible).
"Chronically independent European Americans" fared much worse when primed to think about interdependence while completing the task. For bicultural Asian-American students exposed to both the independence-loving culture of America and a more communally based East-Asian culture, thinking about either value set was equally motivating.
In another test, students viewed a website about a class promoting environmental sustainability. White American students said they would put less effort into the course when the description emphasized things like working together and taking other people's views into account, rather than when it prioritized taking charge and being unique.
Just because we don't want to take a class about working together doesn't necessarily doom us. Though these findings might not apply as neatly to a real-world scenario, they do hint at how we can be encouraged to work more collectively.
"Currently, if we want to inspire Americans to think and act interdependently, it may work best to actually emphasize their independence to motivate them to do so," suggests MarYam Hamedani, one of the study's authors. "Tell them, 'Be the change you want to see in the world' instead of 'We're all in this together.'"
That's because Americans value our independence and independent thinking. It's party of our national DNA. That's also why we are a confederation of 50 states, the United States of America.
As for Americans being selfish: not by any stretch of the imagination. America ranks #1 for total private charitable giving, charitable giving per capita, and total government development aid provided to other countries.
American private charitable giving (by Arthur C. Brooks):
U.S. government development aid:
Note that in the list of development aid, the U.S. gives more than twice as much ($28.67 billion) as the next country, France ($12.43 billion).
Private charitable giving in the U.S. has risen by over 190% over the last 50 years while GDP has risen by 150% over the same period. The take-away? Americans are incredibly generous and becoming even more so despite hard economic times. They gave $298 billion last year, despite a stagnant economy. And wealthier Americans give more, not just in total, but as a percentage of their income.
For completeness, here's a link to a graph of world giving by Charities Aid Foundation (from the U.K.) that gets cited a lot:
They rank the U.S. further down the list, but if you read their methodology in this report, you'll see why:
They rely on the Gallup World View World Poll which is a questionnaire. Questioning people about their giving behavior is not nearly as accurate as measuring the actual money given as Arthur C. Brooks did in his analysis.
For a fascinating read about the correlation between wealth and charitable contributions read Brooks' "Gross National Happiness" (which by the way, is the national motto of Bhutan). The most surprising find: being more charitable appears to increase your personal prosperity (and wealth) rather than the other way around.
Another trait about Americans. If you dare question their "superiority" in any way they post insanely long comments trying to justify themselves.
Giving to charity isn't what this is about. Giving money is easy. It takes about 30 seconds to transfer money or to pay with a credit card. If americans truly weren't selfish they would actually go over to places in need and do the work themselves instead of paying someone else to do it.
Blarg_King, brace yourself for "facts" that show americans go everywhere all the time to help. The multi facet delusion has a lot of faces. Dunning+Kruger uncovered another one.
the ark of truth
Great headline. It did a wonderful job of discounting any point you may have wished to make.
I'm not even American, but if they are selfish (and I've lived there long enough to feel like this study is bunk) then I'm really glad for it. Because their selfishness has led to most of the major technological advancements of the last 150 years.
In my opinion, allowing everyone in a society to be selfish leads to a society where the group as a whole moves forward much faster in quality of living and available technology. This does not preclude that people will choose to be giving of their own time without coercion.
All the years I lived in Italy, I never saw nearly as much selfless giving as in my time in the US. Youth groups getting together to do a service project is a completely foreign concept to anyone there, for example. I see more selfless acts of service in a week since moving here than I would in Italy or Germany or South Korea in a year. So, from my own experience, I don't buy it.
I personally have known (and grown up with) tens of thousands of Europeans and Koreans, in addition to the Americans I live amongst now. And I can tell you that in terms of pure selfishness, the Europeans are (on average) by far the worst. I feel like the Koreans and Americans are closely on par, though they each express their own selfishness in different ways.
What's more, this "experiment" doesn't even come close to representing real life. In fact, from this little experiment, it is about one of the most useless attempts at quantifying selfishness I've ever seen.
And as for the comments by Addl and Blarg... my experiences with Americans are quite different than what you're describing. Sure, there are always the minority that may feel that way. But I've met very few who are that way. To me there is much of the "we can do it if we work hard enough" spirit in them. Most everywhere else I've lived and grown up, it was quite the opposite. In some ways that often seems like arrogance. But it isn't. Rather, I see a lot of us from other countries who seem to have a "little brother" complex regarding Americans. We get bitter thinking that they think they're special, and so we disparage them for it. In particular the Canadians and the French, in my experience.
The Truth that is.... I have heard and seen all the Donations, and aid given to other countries and people by Americans. You see that is not the point...
The main issue is how the world is now, it is all because of these Americans that we have a world that is wrapped up in lies and self interest.
911 was an inside Job
Bin Laden was killed in 2003
Pearl Harbor was instigated by heavy sanctions on the Japanese
There were no weapons on mass destruction in Iraq.
All of these are testament to the SELFISHNESS OF AMERICA AND AMERICANS!!!
I personally had, business partners that were American. What was that like.... Well as long as they made more, and benefited more things were fine..... When the other people in the office started to complain, well well well..... Business is bad and we have to close down.....
The point is simple this is the truth Americans are Selfish in every aspect! All the charity and aid workers are just some form or way to help their consciences.....
Read up and seek the truth!
You can be selfish and give to charity. Plenty of people give their time and money because it makes them feel good.
@Blarg_King: You're right. Why bother giving money to the poorer countries so that they can build local jobs? We'll just go over there and do all the work ourselves. It should kickstart our economy in no time!
News Flash ...Humans are selfish by nature. (If you don't think so, ask an ex.)
One bright spot I'd add, I keep noticing that every natural disaster, tsunami, or hurricane, churches seems to always be the first ones there and last ones to leave. I never seem to hear them brag about it or whine about lack of funding.
Ask anyone in New Oreans and they'll tell you that churches are still sending groups to help rebuild 8 years after Katrina. Who in the world still cares about Katrina? Thankfully some people still do.
you are selfish to think that selfishness is American exclusive ^^
(Type 0.72) = We are still just cleaver monkeys!
The GODS made man selfish intentionally, at least the GODS that wanted us to gather for them and serve them.
Though there is one GOD that asks us to be unselfish.
As we are made by the GODS it is in our DNA to seek and want more than we need, steal from others, be curious and discover more resources with all a hunger for me. This greed\want\desire is part of who we are.
Neanderthals\natural\evolutional man was not like this. Neanderthal man lived with the Earth and only took what he needed.
It explains the liberal bent to the government lately.
If you think Manuel`s story is super..., four weaks-ago my neighbour basically got paid $5274 grafting a twelve hour week in their apartment and they're best friend's step-sister`s neighbour has been doing this for 8-months and broght in more than $5274 part-time from their mac. the advice from this site......
You almost don't have to read the article, the headline says it all- "Science Confirms the Obvious".
As for the person who said they are glad that humanity is selfish, that is has led to all the technological advancements in the last 150 years, wait until the technology is smarter than the human race and robots learn to reproduce themselves, with no form of empathy whatsoever...
It's odd American's give the most to other countries, no other country is as giving, and yet this article tries to make you think American's are selfish.
Looking deeper all the article states is in reference to things such as "environmental sustainability" which is really part and parcel for those with socialist ideology. Now if the article was truthful and say American's are less 'socialist' you probably would be right.
But I know of no other people who are as giving!
This title should be "Science Confirms the Obvious, Articles with Inflamatory Titles get More Views and Comments even When the Title is Completely Unrelated"
Seriously how does one group being inspired by group goals vs another group being inspired by individual goals equate to the first group being selfish. This is a science website, you think someone here would know better than to read random conclusions that aren't supported by the data. Secondly your article proceeds to claim Americans, as in all Americans are selfish, but then only gives data on a small group of immigrants at a university followed by a sentence about white American students. A better title would be Asian immigrants more inspired by group goals since both Americans and Europeans seem to have similar data in this study. Again its hard to say because, they are all students and a tiny subset of the demographics.
I'm just going to say what does hand grips have to do with anything?
Typical of the new Popular Science. Another article denigrating Americans and containing no scientific content.
I am in mourning at the lose of a fine science magazine.
What is the name of the study?
Why no link to it?
Who are the "scientists" involved?
Since when is "Psychological Science" a reliable source?
Since when is psychology a legitimate science?
"Giving to charity isn't what this is about. Giving money is easy. It takes about 30 seconds to transfer money or to pay with a credit card. If americans truly weren't selfish they would actually go over to places in need and do the work themselves instead of paying someone else to do it."
So if I work to earn $100 and then donate it to a charity, that is different from donating $100 worth of my time to that charity?
" If americans truly weren't selfish they would actually go over to places in need and do the work themselves instead of paying someone else to do it."
Not everyone has free time like they do in Europe, people in the U.S actually do work and long hours at that!
I'm sure the level of charitable giving in the U.S has nothing to do with the large tax incentives given to these selfless individuals and corporations. I see it as smart incentive based economics using ones selfish nature for a more efficient outcome, others seem to see it as proof of our superior generosity.... and this study doesn't really show much. Buy the magazine for the good stuff people.
dumb.... Americans aren't selfish
If you work in a group the first couple of times you will probably put in maximum effort. Then you realize you are doing way more than the others, for the same reward, so why should you try so hard. Alternatively you realize the other group members will do the work, so why strain yourself.
So if you are a get up and go kind of type you rather do the job yourself and get the rewards for yourself. However if you like to hide your laziness or incompetence you prefer to work in a group.
You will probably behave the one way for the things you are confident and enthusiastic about and the other way about stuff you really don't care much.
Speaking about Asians: What do you call an Asian. A Siberian Eskimo or an Indian Tamil? a Mongol or a Vietnamese? I am sure they are all rather different people with very different cultures.
I worked in India many years ago and I asked some of the employees to help me move a heavy workbench. Six of them pulled on the one side and I on my own pulled on the other side. My side moved, theirs did not, because each one of them relied on the other ones to do the job. I encountered quite a few situations like that. So what conclusion must I draw from that? They are such altruists none of them wants to work?
But then the greatest puzzle of them all: what does a hand squeeze have to do with selfishness?
Nationalities aren't selfish, individuals are. Personally, I think I'm selfish about 99% of the time. It's not a figure I'm comfortable with as I think that 1% of unselfish time causes me about 90% of my unhappiness.
I don't understand the purpose of this article, so I'm just going to let out a big fart.
I'm thinking that PopSci did this article -- and especially the headlline -- in a tabloid style effort to start controversy and keep up the circulation.
The 'study' only features Americans -- European Americans and Asian Americans ( who are somehow more bicutural than European Americans). So, the actual data presented focuses on the differences between those two groups.
Not to mention that the details presented are fairly vague -- as are the results. Asian Americans 'fared better' -- but the graphs don't seem to indicate huge differences.
Nor are we privy to the size of this study or how randomly the subjects were chosen.
Finally, it does not seem at all accurate to use the word 'selfish' to describe the results.
Good job PopSci -- the readers fell for it. But your predecessors who published the wonderful magazines of days gone by are probably not very proud of you.
Fero - science hasn't confirmed anything obvious as your ilk's hatred of all things American. Seriously, call your dad and work out the problems. To all but the completely indoctrinated the polls cited are obviously flawed. This passes for science? Really? Do you even know what the scientific method is, what it WAS about?
Well advised moyeti, reconciliation & a good colonic will help.
Americans are selfish? Who do you think you are, PopSci? I patented that phrase and I'm gonna sue.
Funny thing... Liberals are so giving with other people's money, never with their own unless it's a "tythe" back to their agenda (The vegitarian's fund for cute animals.)
Their self-deception is only surpassed in kareoke bars.