A recent study has shed light on the universal nature of small acts of kindness. The study, published in Scientific Reports, examined behaviors in various towns and rural areas across different countries and discovered that people signal for assistance from others approximately every two minutes. Surprisingly, the research revealed that individuals are more likely to comply with these requests for help than decline them.
The study, conducted by researchers from UCLA, along with collaborators from Australia, Ecuador, Germany, the Netherlands, and the U.K., suggests that cooperative behaviors are more similar across cultures than previously believed.
The research, led by UCLA sociologist Giovanni Rossi, aimed to explore the human capacity for cooperation and analyze patterns of assistance-seeking behavior. The team analyzed over 40 hours of video recordings capturing everyday life interactions involving more than 350 individuals from geographically, linguistically, and culturally diverse sites. The recordings included towns in England, Italy, Poland, and Russia, as well as rural villages in Ecuador, Ghana, Laos, and Aboriginal Australia.
The study focused on situations where individuals indicated a need for help, such as asking directly or visibly struggling with a task, and observed the responses they received. More than 1,000 such requests were identified, occurring on average once every two minutes. These requests primarily involved low-cost decisions related to sharing items for everyday use or assisting others with household tasks.
The researchers found that people complied with small requests seven times more often than they declined them and six times more often than they ignored them. Although rejections and ignoring did occur, they were significantly less frequent compared to compliance. The preference for complying with requests was consistent across all cultures and was not influenced by the relationship between the individuals involved.
Additionally, the study highlighted that people provided assistance without explanation, while those who declined a request offered a specific reason 74% of the time. This suggests that individuals only refuse to help when they have a valid reason, but they are willing to offer help unconditionally without needing to justify their actions.
The study’s findings challenge previous research on cooperation and resource-sharing, which emphasized the influence of cultural norms, values, and local adaptations. While cultural variations may exist in high-cost and special occasions, the research revealed that at the micro level of social interaction, cultural differences fade away, and the human inclination to offer help when needed becomes universally apparent.
Overall, the study suggests that acts of kindness are deeply ingrained in human nature, transcending cultural boundaries. Regardless of where they are from, people share a common tendency to engage in small acts of assistance, highlighting the fundamental cooperative nature of humanity.