If real life were like the television show “Survivor,” the people that would be voted off the island first might be the nice guys. New research has revealed as much as we hate the lazy people who don’t contribute much, we equally dislike the nice people that enable the sloths who mooch through life. When it comes to group dynamics, being too nice may lead to backlash.
Initially, the researchers developed a study in the hopes of reconfirming the idea that members of a group would dislike and therefore remove the unproductive members. As part of the study, researchers had college students play a video game which required cooperative team play to win. As predicted, the results showed that “people are generally averse to maintaining inequitable relationships.” However, they were surprised to discover that subjects also wanted to oust the “benevolent” teammates who were most tolerant of the slackers. Intrigued by this finding, they conducted three follow-up studies to see if this result would hold up.
Though each of these follow-up studies had its own design, all of the studies were a variation on college students playing a cooperative computer game with unseen group members, two of whom were phony. One fabricated teammate (the lazy teammate) scored significantly lower than everyone else. The other phony player (the nice guy) did well at the game, yet graded the lazy teammate as doing equally well as the other teammates. At the end, group members rated each other’s performance. Indeed, the subjects repeatedly indicated that they wanted to eject both the lowest contributor and the nice person.
The researchers were also curious to learn the reasons why the nice team member was given poor ratings. 58% said they resented the nice player, because the nice player made them look like the bad guy. Ultimately, since the nice person gave a “good” grade to the slacker, the group turned on the nice guy.
While it is common knowledge that groups will try to weed out the bad apple, it may come as a surprise that the good apple is often targeted as well. Being a team player means making choices that benefit the group, therefore pushovers and enablers are viewed as detrimental to the team. Even if your conscience does not allow you to exclude the weak link, it is worth being aware that your compatriots may turn on you, too.