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

Spotlighting differences in closely-related species

October 22, 2018

There are millions of fungal species, and those few hundred found in the Aspergillus genus play important roles in areas ranging from industrial production to agricultural plant pathogens. Reported October 22, 2018, in Nature ...

Ancient enzymes the catalysts for new discoveries

October 22, 2018

University of Queensland-led research recreating 450 million-year-old enzymes has resulted in a biochemical engineering 'hack' which could lead to new drugs, flavours, fragrances and biofuels.

Cellular trash cans reveal the roles of proteins in disease

October 22, 2018

If we really want to know how our body's cells work—or don't work, in the case of disease—we might need to look beyond their genes and even beyond the proteins they are made of. We may need to start going through the ...

Nanosized ferroelectrics become a reality

October 22, 2018

Using ferroelectricity instead of magnetism in computer memory saves energy. If ferroelectric bits were nanosized, this would also save space. But conventional wisdom dictates that ferroelectric properties disappear when ...

0 comments

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.