Christmas is fast approaching (2 days!) and we are all getting excited about receiving and giving presents. Personally I cannot wait to give mine and see how they are received, after all this wait and preparation (they are handmade) I am hoping to put a smile on the face of my loved one(s).
But let's take a closer look at the science of giving presents.
This is something I already discussed on a previous blog post from my previous university, the QUBio blog but, as I ended up working on cooperative behaviour this year (using mussels as my model system), I decided to discuss this topic again.
How does giving presents and being “altruistic” fit in with the theory of natural selection? Altruistic behaviours exist in the animal kingdom, however these fit within the “survival of the fittest” and “selfish gene” scenarios, as gifts are given to increase reproductive chance or help is given to related individuals to help carry the genes along. Basically, 'I am helping you because it will help me back' scenario.
So how come humans give each other presents, especially in festive periods such as Christmas?
Professor Novak, a professor in mathematics and biology at the University of Harvard, argues that our acts of ”generosity” can actually be identified as “upstream reciprocity”. So what is upstream reciprocity? When someone is nice to you, you feel good and may be inclined to be nice to somebody else. In their 2007 paper, published in the Proceedings of Royal Society B, the authors showed that upstream reciprocity can increase the level of cooperation. This cooperation will give rise to a “network reciprocity” whereas you donate to people who are likely to donate to someone else who will donate to another and so on until someone will give a gift to you.
I will leave it up to you to decide whether you believe that generosity is after all selfish. Maybe seeing a smile on your loved one faces can be considered as a selfish reward? Maybe in the hope of being forgiven for various other absences over the year? Or hoping that making your loved ones happy will in turn make them more likely to do something good for you (or perhaps just them being in a good mood as opposed to a bad mood is somewhat of a reward?)..
For sure this concept will leave me thinking and hope to have given you some food for thought (in case the turkey isn't filling you up enough this year...)
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