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Lab of Misfits


Mass experiment at the January Lates

On Lates night last October, in the first of our series of experiments about peoples' perceptions of generosity, we compared the amount that people were willing to donate publicly versus privately in return for a cocktail. The important finding then was that the public male donations were higher than the private male donations (there was no public/private difference among females). ‘Costly signalling' theory suggests that men's generosity is motivated partly by a desire to demonstrate their qualities as a mate, so for our second donation experiment, run at the January Lates, we decided to ask three questions:

1) Are males signalling their kindness or their wealth?
2) Could we increase apparently generous behaviour in males if we got females to explicitly rate donating males for attractiveness?
3) Is this male strategy for demonstrating their fitness-as-mates actually effective in the eyes of females?

On the night, men were asked to donate between £3 and £7 in return for a cocktail, and got their photo taken holding their donation. The photos were projected on the wall and also fed to a bank of computers, where women (who also made a donation in order to participate) rated the men's attractiveness. (All donations went to Lab of Misfits, and not to the Science Museum.)

Stats from the night: a total of 475 people took part, which is a fantastic result in itself. Of these, 189 men gave £768.28 (average £4.04), and 286 women gave £976.02 (average £3.41). We still have a lot of data analysis to do, as well as more data to gather, but so far we have established that, on average:

• Males in a relationship donated more (£4.20) compared to single males (£3.90).

• More attractive males tended to donated less.

• Males in a relationship are rated as more attractive (4.29 out of 10 - 56th centile) than those that are single (4.04 out of 10 - 45th centile)

• Men in relationships estimate receiving a lower attractiveness rating (5.71) than single males (5.91).

There's lots more to come, which we will share with you online as soon as we can. We have several ideas for future experiments that naturally arise from this data, but if you think you have any great ideas, or if you have any questions about the experiment, please contact Rich Clarke (, Head of Science at Lab of Misfits.