Iredale, W., Van Vugt., M., & Dunbar, R. (2008). Showing off in humans: Male generosity as mate signal. Evolutionary Psychology, 6, 386-392.
We examined people’s charity contributions while in the presence of an observer of the same sex, opposite sex, or no observer. Inspired by costly signaling theory, we hypothesized that men would be more generous in the presence of a potential mate. Men and women played a number of experimental games in which they could earn money. On completion of these games participants were asked what percentage of their earned money they would be willing to donate to charity. Our results show that men contribute more to charity when observed by a member of the opposite sex than by a member of the same sex or no observer. Conversely, female charity donations did not significantly vary across the three observer conditions. Findings support the notion that men’s generosity might have evolved as a mating signal.