One of the most important issues in research on generosity and other prosocial behaviors is to determine the similarities and differences between humans and other animals: What aspects are actually unique to humans and what aspects have deeper evolutionary roots? To answer these kinds of questions, it is particularly informative to compare the behaviors of humans with that of our closest living evolutionary relative such as chimpanzees. Continue reading →
How I got interested in generosity and why I stay interested are two different stories. I took up economics because I wanted to work on income inequality, thinking that inheritances are an important factor that make inequality bigger. Surprisingly, Gary Becker’s influential Treatise on the Family argued just the opposite: that altruistically-motivated inheritances made inequality smaller. That hooked my interest and I started working on helping behavior within the family. Continue reading →
I’m an economist who entertains a broad palette of possible tastes and motives in the people I study. Some of these tastes and motives come from psychological, some from sociology, some from linguistics, and some just from approaching the world with open eyes. When I was in graduate school in the mid1980s, the observation that people might behave generously toward others they were unrelated to them was considered a minor issue. Moreover, the orthodoxy of the times suggested that markets, competition, and other ideas of “rationality” would quickly extinguish anything but narrow self-interest. Continue reading →
I first became interested in the science of generosity while I was working with Robert Cialdini as a second year graduate student. Dr. Cialdini was involved in a debate with Daniel Batson about whether altruism exists, and Dr. Cialdini came to me to ask whether I would like to collaborate with him on a project that would examine the evolutionary basis of motivational mechanisms that direct altruism. Continue reading →
My interest in generosity came about from my research on social mobility, ethnic integration and social capital in British society. I found a lot of studies on specific aspects of generosity, but no systematic analysis on the interrelationship between people’s socio-economic position, different facets of generosity (volunteering, helping and giving) and their consequences on people’s socio-political behaviour. Continue reading →
Back when I was in graduate school, I was having trouble picking my dissertation topic. Coming from the typical sociology “social problems” perspective, I could not decide which social problem was important enough to study exclusively. One day I started brainstorming ideas and writing them down on index cards (with the idea that I’d sort or organize them somehow). I happened to write down “why do people volunteer?” Suddenly my whole perspective shifted. Rather than focusing on social problems, I thought, why not focus on social goods? Continue reading →
Our lab first became interested in generosity as an outgrowth of the research we do on positive activity interventions (PAIs), such as counting blessings, practicing optimism, putting one’s strengths into practice, writing letters of gratitude, and performing acts of kindness. We were also pursuing a separate project with a technology partner that had the capability of passively recording social interactions of large groups of people. When the call for proposals came along, combining acts of kindness and measuring social interactions seemed a great fit. Continue reading →
My first research project was about the development of values―how (and whether) values are transmitted from one generation to the other. My dissertation advisor, Shalom Schwartz, suggested that we add to the study measures of adolescent behaviors, to exemplify the importance of values to understanding behaviors.
With regard to volunteering, we found two interesting effects. The first was that, as expected, adolescents giving high importance to Universalism (values focusing on the welfare of others, including unknown or unrelated others) showed a higher tendency to volunteer. Continue reading →
Our interest in generosity was sparked by our earlier research in Kolkata, India, where we found that micro-finance group meetings seemed to affect household outcomes through social as well as financial channels . This got us thinking about the various social dimensions of financial access.
Generosity is an interesting case, because we know that informal networks of assistance and risk-sharing are incredibly important in low-income settings. Continue reading →