Altruism is alive and well (in the form of egalitarianism). Yes, really. Even among American college students.
This version is being called the Robin Hood Effect.
Researchers at the University of California, Davis, selected and randomly separated 120 students into groups of four. Each subject was arbitrarily assigned a certain amount of money; players knew how much money the others in their group had, but not to whom each amount belonged. Each player had the option of using some of his or her money to purchase the right to have the researchers subtract or award cash to another participant.
Subjects played the "game'' with different people in each of five trials Each time, "players'' adopted an egalitarian attitude when distributing the wealth in what study co-author and University of California, San Diego, political scientist James Fowler calls the "Robin Hood effect." "People want to give rewards to the lowest [paid] member of the group and take away from the highest [paid] member of the group," he says. "I think that we were surprised by the magnitude of the punishment." Nearly 70 percent of the players reduced someone else's income at least once, and three quarters of them gave up a little to help someone in a weaker position. The behavior was consistent across all five trials, meaning people did not decide later to just look out for themselves.