People dislike working with overly unselfish people about as much as they dislike working with greedy people, according to the researchers of a study published in the August issue Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

Previous research has documented the unsurprising finding that most people would prefer not to work with peers who are greedy and selfish—but what about working with do-gooders, people who unselfishly volunteer to take on tasks that will benefit others at their own expense? Craig Parks, PhD, and his colleagues from the Washington State University at Pullman set out to answer that question.

Parks’s team conducted four studies where participants were exposed to both greedy and unselfish people in a simulated game. In the game, which included five players, points could be awarded to the group or taken away by each player. Unbeknownst to the study participants, the other four players were all part of the study staff. The staff played out preassigned roles, with one player acting out the role of a greedy person who took extra points that could have benefited the group, and another staff member acting as a player who frequently gave up points, often at his or her own expense.

As expected, the participants later stated that they would not want to work with the players who were the most selfish and greedy. Surprisingly, however, a fair number of study participants also said they wouldn’t want to work with the players who were unselfish.

“It’s not hard to find examples [of this in real life],” Parks said, “but we were the first to show this happens and have explanations for why.”

When interviewed after the game, study participants gave reasons for disliking the unselfish players, saying, “the person is making me look bad” or is breaking the rules. Occasionally, the participants suspected the unselfish person had ulterior motives.

Parks and his colleagues plan to research what unselfish people do when others reject their actions. Do they simply give up their unselfish behavior, or do they keep trying?