Being a do-gooder may earn you widespread admiration but helping the poor or doing good works for charity can be a turn-off when it comes to romance. Asked to choose between ‘do-gooders’ and those who put family and friends first, we would rather spend time with the latter, a study found.

This seems to contradict previous research which showed women and men are attracted to people who say they help others. But it seems that while people find altruism attractive in theory, they are not so keen if it comes at the expense of close family or friends. By way of a fictional example, the study authors from Oxford and Yale Universities cite Mrs Jellby in Dickens’ Bleak House, who readers will judge harshly because she: ’spends most of her time setting up a charity for a far-off tribal community while ignoring the needs of her own family.’ Molly Crockett, Assistant Psychology Professor at Yale, said: ‘When helping strangers’ conflicts with helping family and kids, people prefer those who show favouritism, even if that results in doing less good overall.’

The researchers, whose findings are published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, created two scenarios to test the moral dilemma of family versus doing good. They asked whether a grandmother who wins $500 in the lottery should give it to her grandson to fix his car or to a charity dedicated to combating malaria. In the other case, a young woman has to decide whether to spend the day with her lonely mother or building homes for the poor.

Although participants perceived both choices as equally moral, when it came to looking for a spouse or a friend they preferred those who helped their relatives. Oxford University researcher Jim Everett said: ‘Friendship requires favouritism. Who would want a friend who wouldn’t help you when you need it? ‘but added: ‘While we like favouritism in friends we are less keen to see it in bosses and political leaders.’

I find that this study requires a great deal of thought. The dilemma is certainly one which evokes a most profound human feeling where choice is hard and sometimes painful.

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