GOOD

Sex, Food and... Generosity?

A landmark study from the Harvard Business School shows that generosity-and its benefits- are deeply ingrained in human nature.

Can money buy happiness? Possibly. Especially if you give your money away. Generosity may be a psychological universal according to a new study from the Harvard Business School. That is, generosity appears to be an evolutionary trait akin to sex and eating that provides benefits to individuals (and our species as a whole). From the study:

This research provides the first support for a possible psychological universal: human beings around the world derive emotional benefits from using their financial resources to help others (prosocial spending). Analyzing survey data from 136 countries, we show that prosocial spending is consistently associated with greater happiness.

In contrast to traditional economic thought—which places self-interest as the guiding principle of human motivation—our findings suggest that the reward experienced from helping others may be deeply ingrained in human nature, emerging in diverse cultural and economic contexts.


\n

The study builds on decades of research (beginning with Darwin), which has shown that generosity favored survival in our evolutionary past and may have helped us develop large scale systems and infrastructure like cities and economies.

Indeed, theorists have argued that the evolution of altruistic behavior was essential in producing the large-scale social cooperation that allowed early human groups to thrive (Darwin, 1871/1982; Henrich & Henrich, 2006; Tomasello, 2009;Wilson, 1975).

By age one, nearly all children respond prosocially to others in distress (Zahn-Waxler, Radke-Yarrow, Wagner, & Chapman, 1992), and both human infants and chimpanzees will provide instrumental help to a stranger— even when no reward can be expected for helping—suggesting that humans and our nearest evolutionary relatives may find helping others inherently rewarding (Warneken & Tomasello, 2006).

If the capacity for generosity favored survival in our evolutionary past, it is possible that engaging in generous behavior might produce consistent, positive feelings across diverse cultural contexts—akin to the pleasurable feelings associated with other adaptive behaviors such as eating and sexual intercourse.

\n

To test this idea, the study was conducted across 136 countries and throughout different socio-economic groups. Importantly, the research demonstrates not just a correlational but a causal relationship.

To test the causal impact of prosocial spending on well-being, we randomly assigned participants in Canada and Uganda to write about a time they had spent money on themselves (personal spending) or others (prosocial spending)... As predicted, there was a significant main effect of spending type, whereby participants randomly assigned to recall a purchase made for someone else reported significantly higher SWB (social well being) than participants assigned to recall a purchase made for themselves.

\n

What's more, even though generosity manifests differently in rich and poor countries (both in terms of frequency and form) the results were the same: regardless of income or culture, people reported more positive feelings from purchasing for others than themselves.

That the study came out of the Harvard Business School is revealing. Most business models (and capitalism, really) are built on the premise that self-interest is the fundamental human motivation. But this study calls into question or at least complicates the matter. Because even if our altruism is somehow motivated by our own self-interest ("remember that money I loaned you a while back?") it does remind us that our success as individuals and as a species is more interdependent than we may realize.

At the very least it recalls the adage that has found its way into the dogma of so many religions around the world: do unto others as you would have done unto you.

Image (cc) via Flickr user DiGiSLR

Articles

Four black women, Engineers Christine Darden and Mary Jackson, mathematician Katherine Johnson, and computer programmer Dorothy Vaughn, worked as "human computers" at NASA during the Space Race, making space travel possible through their complex calculations. Jackson, Johnson, and Vaughn all played a vital role in helping John Glenn become the first American to orbit the Earth.

They worked behind the scenes, but now they're getting the credit they deserve as their accomplishments are brought to the forefront. Their amazing stories were detailed in the book Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly, which was later turned into a movie. (Darden was not featured in the movie, but was in the book). Johnson has a building at NASA named after her, and a street in front of NASA's Washington D.C. headquarters was renamed "Hidden Figures Way."

Keep Reading Show less

Between Alexa, Siri, and Google, artificial intelligence is quickly changing us and the way we live. We no longer have to get up to turn on the lights or set the thermostat, we can find the fastest route to work with a click, and, most importantly, tag our friends in pictures. But interacting with the world isn't the only thing AI is making easier – now we can use it save the world, too.

Keep Reading Show less
Good News
Courtesy of John S. Hutton, MD

A report from Common Sense Media found the average child between the ages of 0 and 8 has 2 hours and 19 minutes of screen time a day, and 35% of their screen time is on a mobile device. A new study conducted by the Cincinnati Children's Hospital published in the journal, JAMA Pediatrics, found exactly what all that screen time is doing to your kid, or more specifically, your kid's developing brain. It turns out, more screen time contributes to slower brain development.

First, researchers gave the kids a test to determine how much and what kind of screen time they were getting. Were they watching fighting or educational content? Were they using it alone or with parents? Then, researchers examined the brains of children aged 3 to 5 year olds by using MRI scans. Forty seven brain-healthy children who hadn't started kindergarten yet were used for the study.

They found that kids who had more than one hour of screen time a day without parental supervision had lower levels of development in their brain's white matter, which is important when it comes to developing cognitive skills, language, and literacy.

Keep Reading Show less
Health
via KTVU / YouTube

The 63-year-old Oakland-Alameda Coliseum, currently branded the RingCentral Coliseum, is one of the most decrepit sports venues in America.

The home to the the NFL's Oakland Raiders (until they move to Las Vegas next season) and MLB's A's, is notoriously known as the Black Hole and has made headlines for its frequent flooding and sewage issues.

One of the stadium's few positive aspects is its connection to public transportation.

Keep Reading Show less
Hero Video
via Anadirc / Flickr

We spend roughly one-third of our life asleep, another third at work and the final third trying our best to have a little fun.

But is that the correct balance? Should we spend as much time at the office as we do with our friends and family? One of the greatest regrets people have on their deathbeds is that they spent too much of their time instead of enjoying quality time with friends and family.

Lawmakers in the United Kingdom have made a significant pledge to reevaluate the work-life balance in their country.

Keep Reading Show less
Lifestyle