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Robin Hood Effect

May 9, 2007

Many of us would take from the rich and give to the poor if given a chance.


Rewarding the poor and punishing the rich. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

There’s a Robin Hood hidden inside many of us. That’s according to political scientist James Fowler of the University of California-San Diego. Fowler randomly assigned volunteers in a study to be poor, middling, or rich. Surprisingly, more than half of them were willing to spend their own money to make the poor in the group richer or the rich, poorer. Fowler says this shows people care about equality and will act…when they know they’re anonymous.

JAMES FOWLER (University of California-San Diego):
So in the real world, oftentimes when you’re deciding whether to punish the rich, you’re including in that decision the fact that, well, they’re rich. And they also have more power and greater ability to get back at you if you were to do something bad to them.

He says the voting booth is one of the few places people can release their inner Robin Hoods without fear of retribution. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.