Birthdays, holidays, celebrations to mark special events and just because I care about you, are all great reasons to spoil someone with a gift. Amidst all of our giving, have you ever stopped to ponder the how’s and whys? Or wondered about the psychology of giving gifts and why it makes us happy?
Why do We Give?
One of the long-standing tenants of human social science insists that we are motivated by the expectation of potential reward. Therefore, wouldn’t incurring a cost to benefit someone else, with no prospect of a potential reward be counter-intuitive? Wouldn’t evolutionary biologists consider this maladaptive and economists, downright irrational? So why do we do it?
Research indicates that helping others decreases anxiety, while increasing positive feelings and our levels of satisfaction. However, is this enough to explain the phenomenon of generosity?
Will We Meet Again?
A study into the phenomenon of giving was conducted by scientists at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Together with his team, Psychologist Max Krasnow claims that even when people believe that an interaction could only be one-time, they’re often still generous.
This they concluded after running a series of computer simulations. These were to test whether it is really true that evolution would select against generosity in situations where there is no obvious future payoff. Surprisingly, their findings show that generosity emerges naturally from the evolution of cooperation. Seen in this way, generosity would appear to be an innate trait. Therefore, more than just a response to social pressure or the desire to leave a good impression.
Accordingly, people are therefore more generous than biological or economic theories predict. This they concluded was due to the inherent uncertainty of social life. In many cases, you can never know for certain whether an interaction you’re having right now will only be one-time. There is always a chance that it will reoccur or even continue indefinitely. For this reason, the laws of natural selection that govern our decision-making processes tend to favour treating others as if the relationship will endure.
Thus, research amounts to showing that human beings are wired to be overly generous. Additionally, this tendency may be more rewarding than receiving on numerous levels, from the physiological to the neural and to the social. So, next time you generously give something, remind yourself that you may actually be giving yourself a larger survival advantage.
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