Altruism is adorable

March 6, 2006

This story, about a study purporting to trace the evolutionary roots of altruism and cooperation, was eye-opening– and darn cute.

According to the study, the average 18-month-old’s seemingly innate desire to help actually signals pretty sophisticated brain development.

Over and over, whether Warneken dropped clothespins or knocked over his books, each of 24 toddlers offered help within seconds — but only if he appeared to need it. Video shows how one overall-clad baby glanced between Warneken’s face and the dropped clothespin before quickly crawling over, grabbing the object, pushing up to his feet and eagerly handing back the pin.

Seriously, how cute is that?! It seems that this adorable behavior is an early indicator of what sets humans apart from the rest of the animal kingdom:

No other animal is as altruistic as humans are. We donate to charity, recycle for the environment, give up a prime subway seat to the elderly — tasks that seldom bring a tangible return beyond a sense of gratification.

My daughter is only 1 year old, but I like to think that when she holds up a Cheerio in her chubby little hand and won’t put it down until I eat it, she’s showing nascent generosity. My goal as a parent is to raise a kind, generous, compassionate and yes, altruistic child. It’s nice to know biology is already on my side.