Are we inherently altruistic? Philanthropists donate millions of dollars every year to charity. To understand this behavior, economists designed an experimental game named Ultimatum to see how 2 parties interact when asked to divide a sum of money. There are also variations of the game called Dictator and Trust Game.
Ultimatum - Alice is given $10 to decide how much to split with Ben. Ben can either accept or reject the offer. If he rejects, neither of them get anything.
Dictator - Similar to ultimatum but this time Ben can't reject the offer. This is puts Alice in control hence the name.
Trust Game - Variation of Dictator game. An additional step is introduce before the 2 parties proceed with the Dictator game. Ben will offer an initial gift in hopes of getting more back.
All three games show that we consistently prefer fairness and mostly offer a portion of the initial sum to the other party. But things start to get confusing when an economist named John List tweaked the experiments a little.
Dictator 2.0 - Alice can additionally choose to take a dollar from Ben. This shouldn't matter since most of the time Alice decides to share some with Ben.
It turns out that in this variation, less dictator decide to share and one out of five took money from Ben. What John List has discovered is that, with a little variation to the game rules, he can influence the behavior of the participants.
He didn't stop there and did a bunch of other experiments to illustrate that the results of the experiment is affected by its set-up. You can read more about it in Superfreakonomics. I honestly do not know if we innately altruistic but I do hope you will donate to help the earthquake victims in Haiti.