A new study found that people constantly rely on each other for help. The study explored the human capacity for cooperation and found that people signal a need for assistance once every few minutes.
The study by researchers from UCLA, Australia, Ecuador, Germany, the Netherlands and the UK examined behaviours in towns and rural areas in different countries to better understand the cultural influence on cooperative behaviours. The study, published in Scientific Reports, shows that across cultures people answer small requests for help far more often than they decline them. Furthermore, when they do decline, they explain the reason, according to UCLA’s press statement.
These human tendencies that transcend cultural differences indicate that deep down, people from all cultures have more similar cooperative behaviours than previously understood. "Cultural differences like these have created a puzzle for understanding cooperation and helping among humans," explained Giovanni Rossi, UCLA sociologist and the paper's first author in the statement. "Are our decisions about sharing and helping shaped by the culture we grew up with? Or are humans generous and giving by nature?"
For the study, the researchers analyzed over 40 hours of video recordings of everyday life involving more than 350 people in geographically, linguistically and culturally diverse towns in England, Italy, Poland and Russia, and rural villages in Ecuador, Ghana, Laos and Aboriginal Australia. The focus was on the sequences in which one person signaled for help, such as asking directly or visibly struggling with a task, and how another person responded. The researchers were able to identify more than 1,000 requests occurring on average about once every two minutes.
The situations that were referred to as "low-cost" such as sharing items for everyday use or assisting others with tasks around the house or village, were more frequent than "high-cost" decisions such as sharing the spoils of a successful whale hunt or contributing to the construction of a village road, which is significantly influenced by culture, according to the statement. People answered with small requests seven times more often than they declined, and six times more often than they ignored them. Generally, people helped without explanation, but when they declined, 74% of the time they explained.
"A cross-cultural preference for compliance with small requests is not predicted by prior research on resource-sharing and cooperation, which instead suggests that culture should cause prosocial behaviour to vary in appreciable ways due to local norms, values, and adaptations to the natural, technological, and socio-economic environment," said N. J. Enfield, the paper's corresponding author and a linguist at the University of Sydney in the statement. These and other factors could make it easier for people to say 'no' to small requests, but the findings did not show that, he added.
Importantly, the findings show that being helpful is a reflex in the human species. Rossi further explained that when we focus on the micro level of social interactions, cultural differences do not have a significant influence and the tendency to help when needed becomes universally visible.