Why the Contagious Nature of Altruism Matters to Global Poverty


SEATTLE — More often than not, conditions of extreme poverty in the developing world seem hopeless. Many fear that global poverty is a lost cause and believe that their singular donation or advocacy can’t make any real difference; fortunately, those doubts are wrong.

Altruism is Contagious

Studies consistently demonstrate the contagious nature of altruism — proving that one single act of kindness has the potential to benefit an exponential number of others. Rooted in human’s innate psychological and social behavior, observing others’ generosity sparks our own. This phenomenon is called that “moral elevation effect,” and it can be infinitely powerful.

Witnessing someone else’s selfless act physiologically activates the parts of the brain that control social engagement and motivating action. As a result, we are inspired and thus more likely to do a selfless act too. This concept of “paying it forward” may seem insignificant, but a recent study concluded that “one act of kindness was ultimately tripled in value by people subsequently giving more and more.”

We don’t tend to realize, much less see, how our acts of kindness spread through social networks and touch the lives of other people we have never even met. It is gratifying to know that altruism does not start and end with just one person — kindness will spread to others who will subsequently spread it even further. Without one’s knowledge, an act of kindness can easily touch hundreds of people.

One author of this study, Professor Nicholas Christakis, notes how human social networks don’t just promote the flow of goodness, but that these networks in fact rely on the spread of love and kindness to survive. Because humanity’s fundamental impulse is to live in a connected community, we are genetically predisposed towards sustaining and bettering our society for ourself and others.

A Giving Nature Impacts the Global Community

The innate human connection between goodness and social networks is a crucial tool to use in the fight against global poverty.

The contagious nature of altruism is perhaps the most natural, universal strategy to address global poverty. Simply fundraising, advocating or mobilizing for the cause of global poverty will inspire others to do the same. Social media and technological communication are particularly strong assets to the moral elevation effect, for the internet has the ability to instantly reach vast amounts of people.

An act of kindness is something everyone can do. The more people who are altruistic, the more people the kindness will reach and multiply. Thus, as more individuals make an effort to address global poverty, more people get behind the idea, and soon enough monumental, productive change is instigated. It’s as simple as that.

Individual kindness plays a vital role in successfully combatting poverty worldwide. Alleviating global poverty is certainly not a hopeless cause, and no person should think that their efforts don’t matter. It is the collection of individual acts of compassion that have the power to forge change and better the lives of those less fortunate, and as humans, it is both our social and moral obligation to do such life-changing acts.

Catherine Fredette

Photo: Flickr


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