A new study into the human capacity for cooperation suggests that, deep down, people from diverse cultures are more alike than you might expect. The study published in Scientific reportsshowing that from the cities of England, Italy, Poland, and Russia to the rural villages of Ecuador, Ghana, Laos, and Australia, on the micro level of our daily interaction, people everywhere tend to help others when needed.
Our reliance on each other for help is constant: the study found that in everyday life, someone will indicate the need for help (eg, passing a utensil) once every two minutes and 17 seconds on average. Across cultures, these small requests for help are met seven times more often than they are denied. And on the rare occasions that people do hold back, they explain why. This human tendency to help others when needed—and to point out when such help cannot be given—transcends other cultural differences.
The findings help solve a puzzle created by previous anthropological and economic research, which emphasized differences between people from diverse cultures in how they share resources. For example, while Lamalera whalers in Indonesia follow distribution standards when sharing a large catch, whalers in Tanzania sharing food are more afraid of generating negative chatter; Or while Kenya’s wealthier Orma villagers would be expected to pay for public goods such as road projects, such offers would likely be rejected among the Gnau of Papua New Guinea as they would create an awkward obligation in kind.
Cultural differences like these challenge our understanding of cooperation and help in our species: Are our decisions about sharing and helping shaped by the culture in which we grew up? Or are humans equal in the generosity and giving of nature? This new global study finds that while special events and high-cost exchange may attract cultural diversity, when we focus on the micro level of social interaction, cultural difference mostly disappears, and our species’ tendency to offer help when needed becomes more important. globally visible.
- Small requests for help (such as passing a vase) occur on average once every 2 minutes and 17 seconds in everyday life around the world. Small orders are low-cost decisions about sharing items for daily use or helping others with tasks around the house or village. Such decisions are orders of magnitude more frequent than high-cost decisions such as sharing the spoils of a successful whaling or contributing to the construction of a village road, the kind of decisions that have been found to be most influenced by culture.
- The frequency of small requests varies depending on the type of activity people are involved in. Small requests are most common in task-focused activities (such as cooking), with an average of 1 request per 1 minute 42 seconds, and less frequent in talk-focused activities (conversation for its own sake), with an average of 1 request per 7 minutes 42 seconds .
- Small requests for help are answered, on average, seven times more often than they are denied; six times more than is ignored; And about three times more than it gets rejected or ignored. This preference for compliance is shared across cultures and is not affected by whether the interaction is between family members or from outside the family.
- A cross-cultural preference to comply with small requests is not predicted by previous research on resource sharing and cooperation, which instead suggests that culture should cause prosocial behavior to vary in marked ways due to local norms, values, and adaptations to the natural, technological, and socioeconomic environment. These and other factors could in principle make it easier for people to say “no” to small requests, but that’s not what we find.
- Inter-family or extra-family interaction does not affect frequency of small requests, nor compliance rates. This is surprising given the well-established theories that predict that interdependence among individuals should increase the frequency and degree of resource sharing/collaboration.
- People sometimes refuse or ignore small requests, but much less often than they comply with them. The average rejection (10%) and ignore (11%) rates are well below the average compliance rate (79%).
- Members of some cultures (for example, the Morinpata speakers of northern Australia) ignore small requests more than others, but only up to a quarter of the time (26%). A relatively higher tolerance for ignoring small requests may be a culturally evolved solution to dealing with “bullshit”—the pressure to comply with constant requests for goods and services. However, Morinhabata speakers regularly comply with small requests (64%) and rarely refuse them (10%).
- When people offer help, it is done without explanation, but when they refuse, they usually give a clear reason (74% of the time). These rules of justification suggest that while people refuse to help “conditionally,” that is, for reasons only, they offer help “unconditionally,” that is, without having to explain why they are doing so.
- When people refuse to help, they tend to avoid saying no, and often let the refusal be inferred solely from the reason they give for non-compliance. There is never saying “no” in more than a third of rejections. The majority of refusals (63%) consist rather than simply providing a reason for non-compliance.
Giovanni Rossi et al., Cross-cultural principles underlie human prosocial behavior on the smallest scale, Scientific reports (2023). DOI: 10.1038/s41598-023-30580-5
the quote: Study Shows Human Tendency to Help Others Is Universal (2023, April 20) Retrieved April 20, 2023 from https://phys.org/news/2023-04-human-tendency-universal.html
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