Doing selfless good deeds, or just being kind, is contagious — and the behavior of a few can influence many, a new study suggests.
Participants played a “public-goods” game in which one person gives money to others. Players didn’t know each other before the game and never played it more than once with the same person. Yet researchers found that generosity in the first round was tripled by others, who were directly or indirectly influenced to give more.
When people benefit from kindness, they “pay it forward,” which creates greater cooperation that influences others in a social network, say researchers Nicholas Christakis, a physician and sociologist at Harvard University, and James Fowler, a social scientist at the University of California-San Diego. Findings were published in March in the online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Christakis and Fowler also have found happiness, loneliness and obesity to be contagious. In their earlier work, they used records of individuals in Framingham, Mass. But the new study is the first laboratory evidence to support a domino effect in contagion, they say.