Mutual micro-help is self-evident everywhere

“Can you clean that corner again?” “Give me a knife.” “Can you turn on that light?” “Drive those goats away.” In everyday life, people constantly ask each other for small helping skills, on average every few minutes.

And so it goes all over the world. In three-quarters of the cases, the other person agrees to such a small request for help as a matter of course, usually without saying anything else. If the request is refused, the reason for the refusal is usually explained (‘I’m too busy’, ‘I can’t make it’).

This is shown through the analysis of forty hours of video recordings of groups of two to nine people (average 3.7) consisting of family, friends and neighbors in a family environment. They cook together, eat together, play games, do housework or just sit and talk together.

A total of 350 people from eight cultures around the world were filmed – from the Murinpatha speakers in northern Australia, the Sivu in Ghana and the Chapala in Ecuador to groups in Poland, Laos, Russia, England and Italy. There are no cultural differences, write researchers including Dutch linguist Marc Dingemans (Radboud University). Scientific reports.

Minor cultural variations

Whether those people are related or not makes no difference to mutual aid. Friends and neighbors were asked for help as often as family, and they readily provided assistance. During the conversations, help was requested about once every five minutes, slightly less frequently than during group activities. There was also an English conversation between two people in forty minutes without a single request for help. Claims of knowledge (‘What’s your cousin’s wife’s name again?’) don’t count, they do.

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There were minor cultural differences. A request is often asked as a question in England and Italy, perhaps because autonomy is important in those cultures. Because it was a question, others in those countries responded slightly more: ‘Yes, of course’ when complying with the request. The Murrinpada tribe in northern Australia, on the other hand, relatively often – almost always silently – ignored requests for help. There too more than 60 percent of requests were granted.

Very challenging

Humans are primarily thought to be unique in their overwhelming tendency to cooperate and empathize, but anthropological and psychological research often emphasizes cultural differences in that help. Researchers in Scientific reports These studies are always carried out with goal tests and games and often have high stakes: food or money. They filmed everyday life, without any direction or mission. Cultural differences in aid shown in global experiments occur in specialized and costly matters such as joint road building or the mutual distribution of special food. But those cultural differences quickly disappear when you zoom in on the everyday micro level.

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