Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Origins of human altruism.

A number of studies in recent years have shown that 1- and 2-year-olds often provide help to novel individuals, and have generally been interpreted as suggesting that this tendency is innate, and unlikely to result from social interactions. Barragan and Dweck offer observations to the contrary, finding that very simple reciprocal social activities at these ages can elicit high degrees of altruism. The experiments involved reciprocal play (two individuals playing with one set of toys from a bag) or parallel play (two individuals playing separately with identical sets of toys taken from two bags.) Here is their abstract:
A very simple reciprocal activity elicited high degrees of altruism in 1- and 2-y-old children, whereas friendly but nonreciprocal activity yielded little subsequent altruism. In a second study, reciprocity with one adult led 1- and 2-y-olds to provide help to a new person. These results question the current dominant claim that social experiences cannot account for early occurring altruistic behavior. A third study, with preschool-age children, showed that subtle reciprocal cues remain potent elicitors of altruism, whereas a fourth study with preschoolers showed that even a brief reciprocal experience fostered children’s expectation of altruism from others. Collectively, the studies suggest that simple reciprocal interactions are a potent trigger of altruism for young children, and that these interactions lead children to believe that their relationships are characterized by mutual care and commitment.

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