Do a few simple acts of charity inspire others to do the same? We’ve all noticed that BAD acts seem to inspire more of the same, but what about the good things that get done?

Researchers have found the first laboratory evidence that cooperative behavior is contagious and that it spreads from person to person to person. When people benefit from kindness they “pay it forward” by helping others who were not originally involved, and this creates a cascade of cooperation that influences dozens more in a social network.

James Fowler and Nicholas Christakis discovered that when one person gives money to help others in a role playing game where people have the opportunity to cooperate with each other, the recipients are more likely to give their own money away to other people in future games. This creates a domino effect in which one person’s generosity spreads first to three people and then to the nine people that those three people interact with in the future, and then to still other individuals in subsequent waves of the experiment. Christakis says, “The network functions like a matching grant.”

From a scientific perspective, these findings suggest the fascinating possibility that the process of contagion may have contributed to the evolution of cooperation: Groups with altruists in them will be more altruistic as a whole and more likely to survive than selfish groups (which doesn’t indicate longevity for the US congress!)

Christakis says, “Our work over the past few years, examining the function of human social networks and their genetic origins, has led us to conclude that there is a deep and fundamental connection between social networks and goodness. The flow of good and desirable properties like ideas, love and kindness is required for human social networks to endure, and, in turn, networks are required for such properties to spread. Humans form social networks because the benefits of a connected life outweigh the costs.”

Fowler agrees and says, “You don’t go back to being your ‘old selfish self.”

For subscribers, in Whitley’s Room, there are now three short (15 min.) discussions by Whitley Strieber on bible verses, and the second in the series covers John 13: 34: “Love one another.” Also for subscribers, he talks about how the Romans saw Jesus and (in his most recent talk) about the marriage feast at Cana. So don’t be selfish, be generous: It costs less than a latte a WEEK to subscribe for 3 months!

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