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People Help Each Other Every Couple of Minutes, Study Finds

2023

A groundbreaking study conducted by an international team of researchers from prestigious institutions including UCLA, Australia, Ecuador, Germany, the Netherlands, and the U.K. has shed light on the remarkable human capacity for cooperation. Led by UCLA sociologist Giovanni Rossi, the study, published in Scientific Reports, reveals that people across cultures rely on each other for assistance on a constant basis.

The researchers delved into behaviors observed in towns and rural areas in various countries, aiming to understand how people signal their need for help and how others respond. Astonishingly, the study found that individuals worldwide make small requests for assistance approximately every couple of minutes. Even more striking, people overwhelmingly comply with these requests rather than decline them.

The research team analyzed over 40 hours of video recordings capturing everyday life situations involving more than 350 individuals from diverse geographical, linguistic, and cultural backgrounds. The study examined moments when one person indicated a need for help, whether through direct verbal requests or visible struggles with a task, and another person responded.

Out of more than 1,000 requests analyzed, occurring at an average frequency of once every two minutes, compliance prevailed over rejection or ignorance. People complied with small requests a remarkable seven times more often than they declined them, with rejection occurring only 10% of the time and ignorance 11%. These figures indicate that individuals are far more likely to provide assistance unconditionally than to refuse it.

Significantly, the preference for compliance transcended cultural differences and remained consistent whether the interaction involved family or non-family members. Furthermore, while individuals sometimes helped without providing an explanation, when declining assistance, they offered explicit reasons 74% of the time.

These findings challenge prior research that emphasized cultural variations in rules and norms governing cooperation. Previous anthropological and economic studies often highlighted disparities in sharing practices and motivations among different communities. However, this study suggests that, at the micro level of social interaction, the human inclination to help when needed becomes universally visible, surpassing cultural distinctions.

"Cultural differences have long been a puzzle in understanding cooperation and helping among humans. Are our decisions shaped by the culture we grow up with, or are humans inherently generous and giving?" questioned Rossi, the paper's lead author.

The study's results indicate that being helpful is an ingrained reflex within the human species. While cultural variations play a role in special occasions and high-cost exchanges, such as sharing the spoils of a whale hunt or contributing to large-scale projects, the tendency to give help when needed emerges as a universal trait.

N. J. Enfield, the paper's corresponding author and a linguist at the University of Sydney, remarked, "Our findings challenge existing research, suggesting that a cross-cultural preference for compliance with small requests is not explained by resource-sharing and cooperation studies. This indicates that local norms, values, and adaptations to the environment do not significantly impact the universal tendency to provide assistance."

This groundbreaking study offers new insights into the cooperative nature of humanity, highlighting the underlying similarities in people's behaviors across diverse cultures. It reaffirms the fundamental human inclination to help one another, a testament to our shared capacity for global cooperation.

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