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People Are Ingrained to Help Out

When They Can’t, They Explain Why Not

people are more likely to offer assistance than you might expect

By John Salak –

Maybe people are kinder than most of us realize. Researchers from six different countries around the world think so. They found that people not only ask for help more often than suspected but also receive it more often than not.

Asking people for help seems to know no boundaries. It’s from rural areas, towns and cities and was constant throughout the U.S., Australia, Ecuador, Germany, the Netherlands and Britain.

A new study by UCLA sociologist Giovanni Rossi and an international team of collaborators found that people rely on each other for help and that the culture of cooperation is much more universal than expected.

On the rare occasions when people decline to assist, they usually explain why. The team explained these tendencies transcend cultural differences, suggesting people from all cultures have more similar cooperative behaviors.

The new findings lend new insights to previous anthropological and economic research, which has emphasized variation in rules and norms governing cooperation.

“Cultural differences like these have created a puzzle for understanding cooperation and helping among humans,” said Rossi. “Are our decisions about sharing and helping shaped by the culture we grew up with? Or are humans generous and giving by nature?”

Wherever they come from, the researchers discovered that people signal a need for assistance, usually “low-cost” requests such as asking someone to pass them a utensil once every couple of minutes. Far more often than not, their requests are answered.

These requests specifically were answered almost 80 percent of the time. Requests were declined or ignored about 10 percent of the time each, respectively.

When they declined, almost 74 percent of people gave an explicit reason. The research team suggested that this breakout means people usually decline for a good reason while they give help unconditionally.

“A cross-cultural preference for compliance with small requests is not predicted by prior research on resource-sharing and cooperation, which instead suggests that culture should cause prosocial behavior to vary in appreciable ways due to local norms, values, and adaptations to the natural, technological, and socio-economic environment,” noted N. J. Enfield, the paper’s corresponding author and a linguist at the University of Sydney. “These and other factors could, in principle, make it easier for people to say ‘no’ to small requests, but this is not what we find.”

Ultimately, the good news is that helping others appears to be an ingrained instinct.

“While cultural variation comes into play for special occasions and high-cost exchange, when we zoom in on the micro level of social interaction, the cultural difference mostly goes away; and our species’ tendency to give help when needed becomes universally visible,” Rossi said.





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