When you owe your buddy $24.67 for your part of the bill, do you simply hand over a twenty and a fiver and say “don’t worry about the change,” or do you pay them the exact amount? How about when you pay them using Apple Pay Cash, what do you do then?
A study, jointly conducted by the University of Virginia, Columbia Business School and Harvard Business School, examined how folks looked upon those that paid the exact amount when settling up via cash or via a payment app, like Apple Pay Cash.
We identify and document a novel construct—pettiness, or intentional attentiveness to trivial details—and examine its (negative) implications in interpersonal relationships and social exchange. Seven studies show that pettiness manifests across different types of resources (both money and time), across cultures with differing tolerance for ambiguity in relationships (the United States, Switzerland, Germany, and Austria), and is distinct from related constructs such as generosity, conscientiousness, fastidious, and counter-normativity. Indeed, people dislike petty exchanges even when the (petty) amount given is more generous (e.g., a gift card for $5.15 rather than $5), suggesting that pettiness may in some instances serve as a stronger relationship signal than actual benefits exchanged. Attentiveness to trivial details of resource exchanges harms communal-sharing relationships by making (even objectively generous) exchanges feel transactional. When exchanging resources, people should be wary of both how much they exchange, and the manner in which they exchange it.
When casual debts, like a person’s portion of a restaurant tab, are settled in cash, people tend to round to the nearest dollar amount, waving off the change, or the recipient will say “just give me $20,” when the share is $20.16 or a similar amount.
However, payment apps make it easy to send the precise amount, and the study says that can make you appear to be petty.
[The study] asked people to evaluate two imaginary individuals based on past online transactions with a friend: One person had sent three precise payments (for example, $9.99, $34.95 and $20.06), while the other had sent three round payments ($10, $35 and $20). Even though the total amount exchanged was the same, 81% of the people we asked said they would rather befriend the person who had paid round amounts. They told us that when precise numbers are involved, the payment feels impersonal—too much like a business transaction.
The problem is magnified when the payment is between two actual or potential romantic partners, with dating participants feeling less interest in the person who settled up to the exact penny. Folks in committed relationships were less satisfied and less committed to partners who paid the exact amount.
So, dear reader – have you ever thought this way when you’ve been paid for a socially-related debt via Apple Pay or another payment service, does this seem ridiculous? Let us know your experiences and/or thoughts on this in the comments section below.