The Washington Post's Science Notebook reports the results of an experiment which monitored the generosity of Harvard Business students. To wit:
Researchers have long known that people tend to donate more liberally when they are being watched. The evolutionary explanation is one of self-interest: A generous act may pay off later, while selfishness can come back to bite.
But how hard-wired is that reaction? Humans are known to be acutely aware of when they are being watched—the result of an involuntary brain response to other eyeballs that offers obvious survival benefits. Is that gaze-detector so strong that even a robot can shame a person into giving more?
To find out, Terence Burnham of Harvard University and Brian Hare of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, enlisted 96 Harvard Business School students in an experiment. In each round, four students were given a set of tokens and told that they could either cash them out at the end of the exercise or donate them to the group, in which case all four would get a fraction of the tokens' value—an option that gave each person less but distributed the money more evenly. They could not talk or strategize.
The students shared about 30 percent more of their tokens when an image of Kismet, a wide-eyed robot developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, appeared on their computer screens while they decided.
The fact that donations jumped in response to a pair of eyes that obviously had no capacity to watch or judge them suggests that humans automatically behave in more socially conscious ways when the brain detects a visual pattern resembling a gaze, the team concludes in the June issue of Human Nature, released this month.
Earlier research found that people contributed more of the office coffee kitty when the price list was topped with the image of a face watching them.
So much for the admonitions in Matthew 6:1
Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.
Apparently most people–motivated by the hope of reciprocal altruism–would rather count on rewards in the here-and-now than wait for them in sky bye-and-bye.