Project Publications

Generosity and the Maintenance of Marital Quality

Bradford Wilcox, University of Virginia; Jeffrey Dew, Drew University

This study examined whether generosity in marriage was associated with marital quality. It found that generosity—defined here as small acts of kindness, displays of respect and affection, and a willingness to forgive one’s spouse his or her faults and failings—was positively associated with marital satisfaction and negatively associated with marital conflict and perceived divorce likelihood.

Young children proactively remedy unnoticed accidents

Felix Warneken. Cognition 126 (2013) 101–108.

Human adults will sometimes help without being asked to help, including in situations in which the helpee is oblivious to the problem and thus provides no communicative or behavioral cues that intervention is necessary. Some theoretical models argue that these acts of ‘proactive helping’ are an important and possibly human-specific form of prosociality. Two experiments examined whether young children proactively help in a situation where an adult did not provide any concurrent behavioral cues that help was needed.

Parenting and Beyond: Common Neurocircuits Underlying Parental and Altruistic Caregiving

James E. Swain, Sara Konrath, Stephanie L. Brown, Eric D. Finegood, Leyla B. Akce, Carolyn J. Dayton & S. Shaun Ho (2012): Parenting: Science and Practice, 12:2-3, 115-123.

Driven by evolutionary pressure for survival, parents feel compelled to provide care to their biological offspring. However, compassion for non-kin is also ubiquitous in human societies, motivating individuals to suppress their own self-interests to promote the well-being of non-kin members of the society. We argue that the process of early kinship-selective parental care provides the foundation for non-exclusive altruism via the activation of a general Caregiving System that regulates compassion in any of its forms.

Young Children Consider Merit when Sharing Resources with Others

Patricia Kanngiesser and Felix Warneken. PLoS ONE, 2012. March 7(8):1-5.

Merit is a key principle of fairness: rewards should be distributed according to how much someone contributed to a task. Previous research suggests that children have an early ability to take merit into account in third-party situations but that merit-based sharing in first-party contexts does not emerge until school-age. Here we provide evidence that three- and fiveyear-old children already use merit to share resources with others, even when sharing is costly for the child.

Dynamic social networks promote cooperation in experiments with humans

David G. Randa, Samuel Arbesman, and Nicholas A. Christakis, 2011. Proceedings for the National Academy of Sciences ,November 29, 108(48): 19193-19198.

Human populations are both highly cooperative and highly organized. Human interactions are not random but rather are structured in social networks. Importantly, ties in these networks often are dynamic, changing in response to the behavior of one’s social partners. Here, we present experimental evidence of the power of using strategic link formation and dissolution, and the network modification it entails, to stabilize cooperation in sizable groups. 

AVPR1A variant associated with preschoolers’ lower altruistic behavior

Ariel Knafo et al. PLoS ONE, 2011. September 6(9):1-5.

The genetic origins of altruism, defined here as a costly act aimed to benefit non-kin individuals, have not been examined in young children. However, previous findings concerning adults pointed at the arginine vasopressin receptor 1A (AVPR1A) gene as a possible candidate. We modeled altruistic behavior in preschoolers using a laboratory-based economic paradigm, a modified dictator game (DG), and tested for association between DG allocations and the RS3 “target allele.” 

Children’s Low Affective Perspective-Taking Ability Is Associated With Low Self-Initiated Pro-sociality

Ariel Knafo et al. Emotion, 2011. Vol. 11, No. 1, 194–198.

Children’s affective perspective-taking (APT) may provide a basis for efficient social interaction. The APT abilities of 83 children from 46 same-sex sibling pairs were assessed through their reactions to affectively loaded story situations, and children whose APT ability (but not general cognitive abilities) was low relative to other children of their age were designated as Low-APT children. These children were not less pro-social when specific social cues or requests for pro-social behavior were given by experimenters.

Cooperative behavior cascades in human social networks

James H. Fowler and Nicholas A. Christakis, 2010. Proceedings for the National Academy of Sciences, March 23, 107(12):5334-5338.

Theoretical models suggest that social networks influence the evolution of cooperation, but to date there have been few experimental studies. Here, we exploit a seminal set of laboratory experiments that originally showed that voluntary costly punishment can help sustain cooperation.

The power of asking: How communication affects selfishness, empathy and altruism

James Andreoni and Justin M. Rao, 2010. National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper Series, NBER Working Paper No. 16373.

To understand the “pure” incentives of altruism, economic laboratory research on humans almost always forbids communication between subjects. In reality, however, altruism usually requires interaction between givers and receivers, which clearly must influence choices. This paper looks at how communicative situations influence altruistic behavior.

Is crowding out due entirely to fundraising? Evidence from a panel of charities

James Andreoni and A. Abigail Payne, 2009. National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper Series, JEL Classification: H00, H32, H50.

When the government gives a grant to a private charitable organization, do the donors to that organization give less? If they do, is it because the grants crowd out donors who feel they gave through taxes (classic crowd out), or is it because the grant crowds out the fundraising of the charities who, after getting the grant, reduce efforts of fundraising (fundraising crowd-out)? This is the first paper to separate these two effects.