By Hugh McDonald, Ph.D.
Exhibition Consultant and Principal Investigator, Science of Sharing Project
“No way! I lost a lot of cows last year!” is not something you’d expect to hear on the floor of a science museum. But with the introduction of an interactive exhibit called The Survival Game, modeled on a resource-sharing system used by East African pastoralists, discussions about livestock are becoming more and more common at the Exploratorium, San Francisco’s museum of science, art, and human perception. The result of a collaboration between the museum and The Human Generosity Project, the exhibit is designed to engage visitors in the challenges of surviving in an uncertain environment—and the potential communal benefits derived from asking for and giving assistance to those in need.
HGP Featured in Rutgers Magazine
Rutgers Magazine, a magazine that is widely distributed to alumni, faculty, staff, and friends of Rutgers University, recently published a news story about the Human Generosity Project. The story focuses on the research being conducted by HGP Mongolia field site supervisor Thomas Conte and Ik field site supervisor Cathryn Townsend.
Human Generosity Project members visit Arizona’s Malpai Ranch
On April 22, 2017, Human Generosity co-director Lee Cronk (at the far right in the above photo) and Maasai field site supervisor Dennis Sonkoi (far left) visited the Malpai Ranch in the far southeastern corner of Arizona. The ranch is home to Warner Glenn (next to Dennis), his daughter Kelly Glenn-Kimbro (next to Lee) and Kelly’s daughter Mackenzie (center). In addition to enhancing our ability to compare across our many field sites, the visit was also something of a homecoming for Dennis, whose first visit to the United States several years ago was part of a cultural exchange between Malpai-area ranchers, including the Glenns, and Maasai from both Kenya and Tanzania. In addition to visits like this one, Cronk is also using his time in Arizona and New Mexico to conduct interviews with some of the many ranchers who responded to the project’s recent mail survey.
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Fitness Interdependence Workshop, February 2017
On February 17 and 18, Human Generosity Project members met with a group of biologists, anthropologists, and psychologists to discuss the concept of fitness interdependence and its implications for the study of cooperation. Participants travelled from as nearby as Arizona State University and as far away as Oxford and Amsterdam for the workshop, which took place at Saguaro Lake Guest Ranch in Mesa, AZ. After participants offered their thoughts about how to define fitness interdependence, the discussion shifted to how humans identify, track, and represent their interdependence with others. The scholars then discussed a range of options for measuring and modelling fitness interdependence. The workshop wrapped up with an examination of a variety of wide-ranging examples of how fitness interdependence might help tackle interesting research questions and a discussion about the challenges and opportunities of using this concept. Despite the participants’ diverse backgrounds, they reached a high level of consensus about many of the key features of fitness interdependence and its relevance to our understanding of cooperation at many levels of organization.
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Rutgers’ School of Arts and Sciences recently recognized Mongolia field site supervisor Thomas Conte for successfully obtaining funding for his dissertation fieldwork. He obtained his funding from three sources: the National Science Foundation, Fulbright IIE, and the American Center for Mongolian Studies. Tom is currently conducting field-work in Mongolia’s Darhad Depression, where he is looking at risk management, cooperation, and sharing among livestock herders.
HGP team members send survey to ranchers in Arizona and New Mexico
In early February, Rutgers undergraduate research assistant Anna Flaherty worked with Human Generosity Project co-director Lee Cronk to package and ship surveys to more than one thousand ranchers in southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico. The data generated by these surveys will enable the HGP to test hypotheses about when, how, and why ranchers help each other and what, if anything, they expect in return. As a way of thanking the ranchers for their help, the HGP will make a $5 donation to a local chapter of Future Farmer’s of America or 4H for every survey that is returned.
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Human Generosity Project Researchers Interviewed for Access Newsletter
The Human Generosity project was featured in Access, a newsletter published by Rutgers’ School of Arts and Sciences. The article provides an overview of the project’s research goals, which are centered around the question of why people help each other. Project director Lee Cronk, Mongolia field-site supervisor Thomas Conte, and Ik field-site supervisor Cathryn Townsend were all interviewed for the article.
Human Generosity Project Members Discuss their Research in Minneapolis, MN
Human Generosity Project researchers met in Minneapolis during the American Anthropological Association conference in November to discuss their findings. The meeting began with a discussion about how the project’s multidisciplinary approach that includes modeling, field work, and laboratory experiments is uniquely suited for investigating resource transfers in humans.
Human Generosity Project Members Interviewed about Their Research for an Article Published by Sapiens
September 1, 2016
Human Generosity Project co-director Lee Cronk and Human Generosity Project member Dennis Sonkoi were interviewed by online publisher Sapiens for an article about friendship. Cronk and Sonkoi described their research with the Maasai people, a pastoral ethnic group in Kenya. They emphasized how a casual friendship can bloom into a special type of friendship known among the Maasai as osotua, which means umbilical cord. Osotua friends go beyond casual friendship by serving as each other’s safety nets against adversity. Cronk adds that developing an emotional bond may have been an efficient evolutionary adaptation that allowed for close friends, such as osotua, to rely on each other in times of need.
Cooperation in an Uncertain World: For the Maasai of East Africa, Need-Based Transfers Outperform Account-Keeping in Volatile Environments
July 23, 2016
When the going gets tough, should you be stingy or nice? An article written by a team of Human Generosity Project researchers has been published in the journal Human Ecology investigates this very question by modeling volatile ecological conditions and testing the best resource sharing strategies. The researchers used agent-based models to compare strict account keeping to a generous giving rule based on the need of the recipient (called ‘need-based transfers’) under volatile conditions.