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Are you generous or stingy?


What causes us to be more generous or more stingy? As it turns out, a lot. 


In one experiment, researchers from Duke University got some participating students to walk around campus wearing shirts that read either “stingy” or “generous.”

When they returned to the lab, the experimenters got them to perform some tasks where they could decide how generous or stingy they want to be. 

What happens? It turns out that those who wore generous shirts were more generous and those who wore stingy shirts were stingy. 


What's even more interesting is that the experimenters repeated the experiment with a new group of participants, except now the "generous" and "stingy" labels were now printed on the inside of the shirts, which is not visible to anyone. 

The result?

Even more pronounced than if the label was printed visibly on the shirt! Those wearing the "stingy" shirt, even though the "stingy' label was not visible to anyone but themselves, displayed even more stingy behaviour. Similarly, those with "generous" shirts were even more generous. 

We are inclined to be the covers we wear. 

Some takeaways from this. First, is the central theme covered in many pages on this website - our decisions and our behaviour are shaped by many factors, which are usually not conscious to us:

Second, is that internal signalling might have a larger effect than external signalling. We might wear a branded shirt or drive an expensive car as a form of signalling, that we are successful, that we have good taste. We think we are influencing others. But perhaps the person we influence the most is ourselves, regardless of what people think. By wearing something, we formulate an impression about ourselves first and foremost - we develop a story of why we have done something and that story shapes our behaviour more than what others' opinion can. 

Perhaps this is why Victoria's Secrets had a successful business for so long.


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