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Kindness Everywhere: New Research Reveals People Around the World Help Each Other Every 2 Minutes
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Kindness Everywhere: New Research Reveals People Around the World Help Each Other Every 2 Minutes

The world can often feel like an unfriendly place. Everywhere we look in the traditional news cycle, we see stories of self-interest, apathy, and cruelty.

But there is good in the world.

Every two minutes, in fact.

People Helping Each Other: The Power of Kindness

According to a new study, the human species actually has a universal proclivity towards kindness that paints a very different picture.

Scientists at UCLA, in collaboration with a team of international researchers, recently undertook a sweeping study of human behavior around the globe to draw some fascinating observations.

Among other takeaways, they determined that on average, people signal for assistance every two minutes. Not only that, but they found that these requests are overwhelmingly met with compassion and assistance.

The research examined behaviors in towns, cities, and rural areas across several countries, suggesting that people from all cultures have more similar cooperative behaviors than existing research previously established.

The effort was led by UCLA sociologist Giovanni Rossi, along with scientists from Germany, Ecuador, Australia, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. The study recognizes "acts of assistance" as asking someone to pass a utensil, help to carry something, or general help around the house.

The study was published in Scientific Reports and revealed that people comply with these small requests far more than they decline them. Further, it revealed that when people do decline them, they often provide a reason, as opposed to helping without explanation.

Where previous research may have distinguished this type of behavior between cultures, this new study paints a picture of universal generosity across the human species.

To do so, the researchers analyzed over 40 hours of video recordings of everyday life involving more than 350 people in towns across England, Italy, Poland, and Russia, as well as rural villages in Ecuador, Ghana, Laos, and Aboriginal Australia. The breadth of analysis was key to the findings, suggesting that compassion transcends culture.

people help each other
Derick McKinney/Unsplash

The footage identified when individuals "signaled for help," such as asking for help or visibly struggling with a task in view of someone else.

The authors of the research distinguished these "low-cost" moments of assistance from "high-cost" requests such as sharing the yield of a successful whale hunt or contributing to major construction and determined that these higher-cost asks were more dependent on cultural influence.

For example, "while whale hunters of Lamalera, Indonesia follow established rules about how to share out a large catch, Hadza foragers of Tanzania share their food more out of fear of generating negative gossip. In Kenya, wealthier Orma villagers are expected to pay for public goods such as road projects. Wealthy Gnau villagers of Papua New Guinea, on the other hand, would reject such an offer because it creates an awkward obligation to reciprocate for their poorer neighbors."

These instances are considered "higher-cost" asks, and are more tied to cultural norms.

The authors shared: "People complied with small requests seven times more often than they declined, and six times more often than they ignored them. People did sometimes reject or ignore small requests, but a lot less frequently than they complied. The average rates of rejection (10%) and ignoring (11%) were much lower than the average rate of compliance (79%)."

Further, they found that compliance was unaffected by familial relationships, and extended to all community members.

"The findings suggest that being helpful is an ingrained reflex in the human species," Giovanni Rossi said.

“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,” he added.

The next time you feel discouraged to ask for help, or buy into the belief that independence is more noble, remember these findings, and the fact that humans are inclined to help one another. Conversely, when you see someone struggling, listen to that urge to help, and trust that others will feel the same if the roles were reversed.

In a world full of cynical news stories, this research presents an optimistic discovery about human nature and a promising status quo for our capacity to help one another.

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