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Altruism In The West And The East

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One of the most interesting cultural concepts is that of altruism. For our purposes, altruism refers to our willingness to give away financial resources, even when it’s to our own detriment. Historically, Eastern cultures have been known to be more altruistic than their Western counterparts. Some of this is based on close kinship ties. It also has to do with the independence of people in the West and their ego-centric nature. Although many studies have been done to test the theory that Easterners are more altruistic than Westerners, nobody has ever tested this theory in real life. Most studies have been done using surveys or hypothetical situations. Here, we are going to conduct a study of how altruism is displayed in real life situations. The study is designed to test two theories. The first is that people will be more altruistic when they are giving away hypothetical money. The second theory is that Westerners will be less altruistic than their Eastern counterparts.

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Studies have demonstrated that people in Eastern cultures are, by their very nature, most altruistic than people in Western cultures (Strombach, 2014). In studies where subjects in both Germany and China were asked how willing they would be to share their wealth with others, the Chinese subjects were willing to share with more people and to a greater extent (Strombach, 2014). Not only were Germans less willing to share with third-parties, when they were willing to share it was at a lower percentage than the subjects from China (Strombach, 2014). This study confirmed what sociologists and psychologists have said for years. Due to their religious beliefs and lack of access to resources, people in the East are more altruistic than people in the West (Johnson 1989).

Our study is going to test this theory even further. Rather than use surveys or questionnaires, we’re going to measure altruism in real-life situations. We’re going to compare levels of altruism in two situations: one where the subjects are asked how they’d share their resources in a hypothetical situation and the other where people are actually given these resources and asked to follow through with their promises to share. The second aspect of this study is going to measure the altruism of people from the United States as compared to people from Korea. Koreans have been found to more altruistic than most countries, when compared to European nations (Johnson, 1989).

This study is specifically going to test people’s willingness to share lottery proceeds with family members. All of the subjects will be asked to fill out a questionnaire specifying how they would divide lottery winnings of $10,000. They are given the option of keeping all the money, sharing with their children, and sharing with their siblings. Half of the subjects will be told upfront that they will not actually receive any lottery proceeds. The other half will be told upfront that they have a chance of actually winning $10,000, but that there is no guarantee. There will be a total of four (4) groups, half from the United States and the other half from Korea. For purposes of this study, all of the subjects speak perfect English so there will be no language barriers to affect the results. All subjects will also have at least one sibling and at least one child with whom they can share the money.

We will have four groups, with 25 people in each group. The groups will be broken down as follows:

Group A – 20 American subjects who will be told the situation is purely hypothetical

Group B – 20 American subjects who will be told they have a 20% chance of winning $10,000 at the end of the experiment via a lottery or raffle

Group C –20 Korean subjects who will be told the situation is purely hypothetical

Group D – 20 Korean subjects who will be told they have a 20% chance of winning $10,000 at the end of the experiment via a lottery or raffle

Groups A and C will fill out a questionnaire, indicating how much of the $10,000 they would be willing to give to immediate family members. We are looking to see if the Korean group is willing to share a greater share of the $10,000. We expect that they will. Groups B and D will also fill out a questionnaire. However, these groups will be told that there is a 20% chance that they’ll actually receive the $10,000. We expect to see two things. First, we believe the Korean subjects will again be more willing to share their winnings. We also believe that the people in these groups may be less willing to share than the people in Groups A and C.

Once all subjects have completed their questionnaires, those in groups A and C will be dismissed and sent to a room to enjoy some refreshments. However, the subjects in groups B and D will be sent to Phase II of the experiment. They will each enter a separate room or cubicle. Each subject will be told that they did indeed win the raffle and have won $10,000. We then ask each subject if they intend to share the money according to the amounts stated in their questionnaire. We want to see if people follow up on their promises once they actually receive the winnings. We also want to see if there is a cultural difference between the Korean and American subjects when it comes to this Phase.

The costs of this study will be high. We will need at least $200,000 to fund the lottery winnings received by the subjects in Group B and another $200,000 to fund the winnings of those in Group D. However, we feel that this may be the only way to actually measure altruism amongst different cultures in real life situations. Unless there is something at stake, we won’t really know how people are going to act. And, by testing to see if people follow through with their altruistic promises, we’ll have no way of knowing if the answers subjects gave were honest or not. It’s important that this study measure actual behaviors rather than just theoretical or hypothetical ones.

Our subjects will have their own natural tendencies to share or not share (Heine, 2016). They only know what they’ve been taught (Heine, 2016). Cultural psychology teaches us that people are shaped by their cultural experiences (Heine, 2016). And, despite what outsiders may think, we all think that our way of doing things is right and morally good (Heine, 2016). It will be interesting to see if this plays out in our study. The results of this study won’t necessarily prove that Eastern cultures are more generous than their counterparts in the West. However, it will either confirm or deny the data found in earlier experiments (Johnson, 1998). Furthermore, it will show whether there is a marked difference between studies of hypothetical behavior versus studies with actual behavior.

In the real world, this study may never be carried out. It would be expensive. It would also require that experiments either be conducted in two countries at the same time, or in one country after paying to transport 40 subjects all the way across the globe. However, it would be interesting to see what the results of this study would be. Is altruism dictated by culture? And, whether it is or not, how is altruism affected by the subjects’ belief that there is an actual chance that they’ll have to follow through with their altruistic promises.

Works Cited

  1. Heine, S. (2016). Cultural Psychology (3rd ed. ). New York: W. W. Norton.
  2. Johnson, R. (1989). Cross-Cultural Assessment of Altruism and its Correlates. Personality and Individual Differences, 10(8), 855-68.
  3. Strombach, T. (2014). Charity Begins at Home: Cultural Differences in Social Discounting and Generosity. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, 27(3), 235-245.
10 October 2020

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