Sharing Doesn’t Make You a Sucker. This Scientist Has the Numbers to Prove It

By studying the unique, selfless practices that helped nine communities across the world endure, the experts from the Human Generosity Project are looking to show that we are indeed capable of widespread cooperation. Athena Aktipis combines their long-term observations with data to quantify the outcomes of generous actions. The Maasai ethnic group in Kenya provided one of the project’s first focal points. The work, supervised by Rutgers graduate student and Maasai member Dennis Sonkoi, has helped to show that peer-to-peer altruism can benefit an entire population. Herders rely on two-way friendships known as osotua, or “umbilical cord,” for resources like food or livestock when they’re in need, without expecting any repayment. Crunching data on average herd sizes and losses, Aktipis designed computer models that outlined how this method of sharing, compared to selfishness or quid pro quo, led to better livestock survival and resource distribution among families in times of drought, famine, or disease.


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