Science of Giving

This is part of the Human perceptionprogramme



The science

In October 2011, we began a series of experiments to investigate our perception of altruism, or generosity, and how this influences the decisions we make be it the giving of money, time and so on. This fits into our wider aims of exploring whether an awareness of perception can result in making us more compassionate.

Among the issues that we are investigating are the difference between private and public generosity, and gender differences in the motivations behind generosity and altruism. There are a number of theories that try to explain the evolution of generous behaviour in different circumstances. Many studies suggest, for example, that females tend to direct altruistic behaviour towards those they know i.e. family and friends, while men are more prepared to direct generosity towards strangers, which could be motivated partly by a desire to demonstrate their qualities as a mate.

The experiments

At the core of this series of investigations are the mass participation experiments that we conduct on Lates night, when around 4,000 people visit the Science Museum in one evening, and when we can attract several hundred subjects in the space of just a few hours (something which is impossible in conventional science labs). We also run supplementary sessions during daytime hours, when we perform control experiments to test our conclusions.

The Brain Bar has become integral to this series of experiments, as all our tests involve the public donating money in return for a cocktail (with brain-inspired names such as Midbrain Madness and Herbaceous Hippocampus), made in-house by our own mixologist. All donations, incidentally, go to further Lab of Misfits' research.

Experiment 1: Public versus Private Donations (Oct 2011) More
Experiment 2: Attractiveness and Altruism Part I (Jan 2012) More
Experiment 3: Attractiveness and Altruism Part II (Feb 2012) More

If you have any questions about the experiments we are running, please contact Rich ClarkeHead of Science at Lab of Misfits. (

See also

Lates More

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Our donors

Donor Mosaic

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