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RC Barragan, R Brooks and AN Meltzoff
Abstract
Altruistic behavior entails giving valuable benefits to others while incurring a personal cost. A distinctively human form of altruistic behavior involves handing nutritious food to needy strangers, even when one desires the food. Engaging in altruistic food transfer, instead of keeping the food, is costly, because it reduces the caloric intake of the benefactor vis-√†-vis the beneficiary. Human adults engage in this form of altruistic behavior during times of war and famine, when giving food to others threatens one’s own survival. Our closest living primate relatives, chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) and bonobos (Pan paniscus), exhibit notable constraints on the proclivity to engage in such food transfer (particularly chimpanzees), although they share¬†many social-cognitive commonalities with humans. Here we show that in a nonverbal test, 19-month-old human infants repeatedly and spontaneously transferred high-value, nutritious natural food to a stranger (Experiment 1) and more critically, did so after an experimental manipulation that imposed a feeding delay (Experiment 2), which increased their own motivation to eat the food. Social experience variables moderated the expression of this infant altruistic behavior, suggesting malleability.
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