Why Are People So Mean To Nice People

Psychologists reveal why nice people sometimes get punished with meanness for their good behaviour.

Psychologists reveal why nice people sometimes get punished with meanness for their good behaviour.

People who are generous and cooperative can get punished by others for being ‘too good’, research finds.

Humans in all cultures can be suspicious of those who appear nicer or better than the rest.

Also, the top co-operators and nicest people make others look bad, so bringing them down a peg or two by being mean can be attractive to them.

That is why some of the nicest people can attract social punishment, meanness and even hatred.

The effect is even more pronounced in a competitive environment, like the workplace, the researchers found, where being shown up could have financial consequences.

Professor Pat Barclay, study co-author, said:

“Most of the time we like the cooperators, the good guys.

We like it when the bad guys get their comeuppance, and when non-cooperators are punished.

But some of the time, cooperators are the ones that get punished.

People will hate on the really good guys.

This pattern has been found in every culture in which it has been looked at.”

Why people are mean

Even relatively egalitarian hunter-gatherer societies demonstrate this phenomenon: the top hunters are socially targeted to stop them dominating the group.

Professor Barclay said:

“In a lot of these societies, they defend their equal status by bringing down somebody who could potentially lord things over everybody else.

You can imagine within an organization today the attitude, ‘Hey, you’re working too hard and making the rest of us look bad.’

In some organizations people are known for policing how hard others work, to make sure no one is raising the bar from what is expected.”

The results come from a study in which people played a cooperation game.

The top co-operators got ‘punished’ the most to avoid making the others look bad, the scientists found.

Professor Barclay thinks that being mean to co-operators may hinder people in protecting the environment or changing the status quo:

“It is a way of bringing those people back down, and stopping them from looking better than oneself in their attempts to protect the environment or address social inequality.”

The study was published in the journalĀ Psychological Science (Pleasant & Barclay, 2018).

Author: Jeremy Dean

Psychologist, Jeremy Dean, PhD is the founder and author of PsyBlog. He holds a doctorate in psychology from University College London and two other advanced degrees in psychology. He has been writing about scientific research on PsyBlog since 2004. He is also the author of the book "Making Habits, Breaking Habits" (Da Capo, 2013) and several ebooks.

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