Image for Small acts of kindness are frequent and universal, finds study

Small acts of kindness are frequent and universal, finds study

According to scientists, humans are wired for kindness, irrespective of the culture they’re from or whether they live in European cities or rural African villages

According to scientists, humans are wired for kindness, irrespective of the culture they’re from or whether they live in European cities or rural African villages

A lift with the shopping, sharing the household chores or simply making a cup of tea for someone. We often lend a hand without giving it a second thought, so is it possible that we are inherently kind?

Maybe so, according to a new study, which revealed how small gestures of kindness are both frequent and universal across a range of cultures, from European towns to rural villages in the global south.

Researchers led by the University of California (UCLA) pored over 40 hours of video footage recording moments in the everyday lives of 350 people in diverse locations, from England to Ecuador, Laos and Australia.

They looked for moments when one person signalled for help – when struggling with a small task, for example – and received it from another, discovering that on average people ask for help every two minutes. More often than not – 79 per cent of the time – they get it. This was consistent across cultures and wasn’t influenced by the relationship between the individuals involved.

The study found that people provided assistance without explanation, while those who refused a request offered a specific reason 74 per cent of the time, suggesting they only refuse to help when they have a valid reason.

Researchers focused on small, ‘low cost’ decisions, with lead author and UCLA sociologist Giovanni Rossi pointing out that ‘high cost’ exchanges are often shaped by cultural influences such as rules of established protocol. But, he concluded, the findings suggest that being helpful is simply part of human nature.

“When we zoom in on the micro level of social interaction, cultural difference mostly goes away, and our species’ tendency to give help when needed becomes universally visible,” he said.

Main image: Annie Spratt

Related articles

Read it and don’t weep.

Headlines about what’s going right in the world are now being shared with millions of people through digital screens on high streets and in shopping centres all around the UK.