Most people have a natural inclination to help our friends and family when they are in need. If a partner is sick, we bring them some soup or ginger ale; if a family member is hungry, we cook them dinner. Exhibiting caring and generosity is mutually beneficial — it helps the ones in need while also making us feel good about helping.

But what happens when we let our own ego-driven need for self-satisfaction become the primary reason for why we help people? Instead of making your sick partner soup, you buy the cheapest can of chicken noodle available and serve it with some off-brand ginger ale — just enough to make you feel like you did something.

This type of selfish help is the focus of a new study from Michael Norton, the Harold M. Brierley Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School.

“Even though we are trying to show that we care about [people], we are almost focusing on our own feelings about whether we are a caring person and a little bit less about if this is something the person on the end actually wants and needs,” Norton told Boston Public Radio Monday.

Norton joined BPR to talk about his recent study and to take calls from listeners who have either been on the receiving end of or have practiced selfish help.