Charity: it's all in our genes

December 19, 2005

A University of California-Santa Barbara scientist believes he's discovered why we give to charity: It's in our genes.

A new study by anthropologist Michael Gurven examines the origins of holiday giving and finds our early human ancestors were frequently altruistic.

"Reciprocity is arguably the foundational basis of cooperation in humans," said Gurven. "A core feature of reciprocity is the contingent relationship between acts of giving and receiving among social partners. Contingency is important because it sets the rules for who qualifies as a free-rider or cheater in exchange relations."

Strict forms of contingency require tit-for-tat, while more forgiving forms emphasize the work effort or relative contributions of others.

"Without some kind of payback, altruism can be a very costly endeavor in small-scale societies subsisting on wild foods," Gurven writes. "This study shows that people indeed share more with those who give more to them .. (but) families who cannot produce much food, close kin, and nearby neighbors sometimes receive more than they give."

The study is to appear in the February 2006 issue of Current Anthropology.

Copyright 2005 by United Press International

Related Stories

Recommended for you

The dark side of Nobel prizewinning research

October 4, 2015

Think of the Nobel prizes and you think of groundbreaking research bettering mankind, but the awards have also honoured some quite unhumanitarian inventions such as chemical weapons, DDT and lobotomies.

Internet giants race to faster mobile news apps

October 4, 2015

US tech giants are turning to the news in their competition for mobile users, developing new, faster ways to deliver content, but the benefits for struggling media outlets remain unclear.

Trade in invasive plants is blossoming

October 3, 2015

Every day, hundreds of different plant species—many of them listed as invasive—are traded online worldwide on auction platforms. This exacerbates the problem of uncontrollable biological invasions.

Fusion reactors 'economically viable' say experts

October 2, 2015

Fusion reactors could become an economically viable means of generating electricity within a few decades, and policy makers should start planning to build them as a replacement for conventional nuclear power stations, according ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.