Social Experiment: Do People Give Money to Homeless Drunk or Homeless Father?

December 11, 2015 | Kelly Tatera

A homeless man begs on a street in the cold.
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Research sheds light on what kind of people are most likely to get donations, and it might surprise you.

Avid YouTube blogger Coby Persin decided to do a social experiment on the streets of New York City — would pedestrians be more likely to give money to a homeless drunk or a homeless father with his child?

To test it out, he made two signs. One expressed that he was homeless and needed money for drugs, weed and alcohol, while the other said he was a homeless single father who needed money for his family. To thicken the plot, he even had a young actress sit with him and pretend to be his child during the second phase of the experiment.

Then, as the camera rolled, he sat on the side of the street and awaited to see which homeless scenario would tug more at people’s heartstrings.

SEE ALSO: Study Links Religion to Less Generous Kids

People seemed to take a liking to Persin as a homeless druggie — he got high fives, people told him they wished they could buy him a whole bottle as they tossed a couple dollars in his cup, people high fived him and told him, “Stay high, man.”

But shockingly, the homeless single father scenario didn’t appear to inspire as many people to give. The pedestrians in the video walked on by as if the homeless father and daughter didn’t even exist, that is until one lady showed an act of kindness that will restore your faith in humanity. Another woman without a home approached the pair and gave them all of the money she made that day, saying they need it more than she does. Someone who herself had barely enough to get by claimed her spot as the most generous person in the entire video.

A study by the Chronicle of Philanthropy took a look at America’s generosity divide, finding that those who earn $50,000 to $75,000 donate about eight percent of their discretionary income — twice as much (percentage-wise) as those who make more than $200,000.

Consistent with this finding, in a series of experiments at UC Berkeley, the researchers found that those with lower socioeconomic status are actually more altruistic and giving than the rich. Paul Piff, the study lead, says their research suggests that the psychological experience of having less likely plays into the pattern that poor people tend to give more.

"When you study the psychology of having less, you find that people on the lower ends of the economic ladder are a little more sensitive to the needs of other people, they are a little more empathetic and compassionate," Piff told "[Wealth] gets you to be a little more disengaged from other people, a little more focused on yourself and as a result it creates this kind of buffer between yourself and other people."

Of course, there are always exceptions. This is apparent in the recent news that Mark Zuckerberg and his wife vowed to give away 99 percent of their Facebook shares throughout their lives, which currently amounts to about $45 billion.

The moral of the story is that we could all probably be a bit more giving, and in the wake of the holiday season, there’s no better time to start.

Check out Persin’s video experiment on giving to the homeless below. What would you have done if you’d walked by?

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