People who punish others the least earn the biggest rewards in repeated interactions, according to a new study published in the journal Nature and authored by Martin Nowak, director of the evolutionary dynamics lab at Harvard University.

At the same time, we are happiest when we’re spending money on others instead of on ourselves, says another team of researchers out of the University of British Columbia and Harvard Business School.

Has the “nice guys finish last” theory finally been put to rest?

Leave A Comment

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive.



View All Comments »
  1. Jose says:

    An extension for the latter study: Do we feel happier when we give or when we recieve? What do you think?

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0
  2. AaronS says:


    People who act so kindly are likely to be the kind of folks that wind up in heaven!

    Further, I find it glorious that it is the poorer folks who give the greater percentage of their (already meager) incomes to charitable giving. Kind of like the story of the widow’s two mites–less than everyone else…yet in God’s eyes, more than everyone else.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1
  3. ross says:

    “Has the ‘nice guys finish last’ theory finally been put to rest?”

    Just for controlled situations where everyone is completely equal.
    I’d guess that this type of environment almost never exists ( or exists for long ) outside of these lab experiments.


    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  4. j says:

    Aaron@#2: People who act so kindly are likely to be the kind of folks that wind up in heaven!

    Alas, Aaron, ’tisn’t necessarily so.

    One can be a kind, generous Muslim, or atheist, or deist, or Buddhist, or pantheist, or . . .

    Sadly, none of us’ll be singing with the Heavenly Choir anytime soon.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  5. Imo says:

    Well, if the game is structured such that “nice” players win, then of course people will be nicer. But if the scoring system is altered such that “evil” acts are worth more points, then people will act more evil. It’s all based on the reward system.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  6. Michael says:

    Are we in fact happier because we are spending money on others? It’s quite probable that when we have money to spend and are happy, we tend to be in a giving mood.
    Cause and effect versus correlation strikes again.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  7. Mitch says:

    Wow, I’m surprised people are so skeptical about the idea that being nice has real-world advanatges. I’ve been in the corporate world for more than 20 years and seen my fair share of nasty in-fighting and corp politics. I’ve also seen a fair number of cases where in the end, those who were the worst eventually lost out and either were sidelined or moved out of the business completely (though it may have taken a while). I’ve always believed in the old stand by phrase “What goes around, comes around.”

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0
  8. yippee1999 says:

    Excellent point in # 2…about folks with little money giving the higher PERCENTAGES of their income to charity. For this reason, it irritates me to no end when people like Bill Gates etc are touted as “philanthropists”. I mean, I know WHY they get all the publicity (esp. cuz their lauders hope the money will continue to flow to them), but still…what about the little guy philanthropist? Why does he never make the front page news?

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0