We might believe humans are kind and charitable because we’re good people, we have been raised “properly” or we are just of a higher moral breed.
But scientists believe that is giving ourselves a little too much credit.
Dr Tim Rogers, Royal Society University Research Fellow, at the University of Bath has been researching the evolutionary advantage of being cooperative with fellow humans.
The study conclusively found that humans are only charitable and altruistic because it is favoured by chance.
Dr Rogers said: “Scientists have been puzzled by this for a long time. One dominant theory was that we act more favourably towards genetic relatives than strangers.”
This theory had been the accepted narrative since J.S Haldane’s claims in the Mathematical Models of Social Evolution that we would jump in a river to save two people if they were our brothers.
But convincing a person to jump in to save their cousins, would require as many as eight people before you felt compelled to help.
Despite this theory being widely accepted, Rogers said it didn’t explain how behaviours of altruism develop in organisms as basic as yeast.
Speaking in the Proceedings of the national Academy of Sciences, Rogers explained that altruism is actually favoured by random fluctuations in nature.
The study compared “cooperators” to “cheats” – those who use up resources but do not contribute themselves - Darwinism suggests these cheats will ultimately win because they can breed faster with this attitude.
However, the new working theory is that more cooperation means more food for all and likelihood of sustaining a larger population.
On the other hand, if due to chance, there is a random increase in number of “cheats” then food goes down for everyone and the population declines.
But if there is a random decrease in the number of cheats, the population can boom and disproportionately benefit the cooperators, so long term they are more likely to win.
Another win for the nice guys.