Altruism looks good on the outside, but it generally comes at a cost. Yet is this completely accurate? This type of prosocial behavior can be a conundrum because offering generosity takes from the giver, gives to the taker, and gives to the giver. Confused? New research from the June 2020 issue of Science Advances helps us sort it all out.
“Prosocial behavior entails paying a cost for another agent to receive benefits. In such cases, prosociality undermines one’s own fitness or welfare. As a result, the ubiquity of prosocial behavior in humans has long been a puzzle for the social and biological sciences. The main solution to this puzzle is humans’ extensive embeddedness in social networks. In contrast to one-off interactions, relatively stable network structures promote prosociality and alter evolutionary dynamics.”
The researchers refer to this type of social-network altruism as reciprocity, and reported the impressive generous actions of more than 700 participants during the project. The study was done by sociologists with Ohio State University, led by professor of sociology, David Melamed. In an interview with Science Daily, Melamed explains that altruism “means doing something for someone else at a cost to yourself.”
“So one example would be paying for the person behind you’s order at the coffee shop. Or right now, wearing your mask in public. It’s a cost to you; it’s uncomfortable. But you contribute to the public good by wearing it and not spreading the virus.”
Now that we’ve sorted out the paradox of altruism, here are the top five altruistic, prosocial behaviors emerging from COVID-19:
- Staying at home; avoiding crowds or events, limiting travel and shopping to essentials.
- Wearing a mask when in public
- Washing hands frequently; avoiding shaking hands or touching people/things in public
- Keeping distance from others in public (6 feet)
- Self-quarantining at the sign of any symptoms (cough, fever, etc)
We would all agree wearing a mask is annoying – yet research confirms humans are increasingly altruistic. Adhering to such prosocial behaviors will benefit you and me, our social network, our country, and the globe.
By Terissa Michele Miller, MS Psy
Check out the original research:
This article was originally published in Modern Brain Journal.
About the author:
Teri Miller is a mom of nine and child development researcher with a Masters of Science in Psychology. She is a Research Associate at Gibson Institute of Cognitive Research, co-host of the podcast Brainy Moms, and the Managing Editor at Modern Brain Journal.