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Surprising Science

Altruism Is More Practical

A new study of a common etiquette—holding a door for someone—suggests that courtesy may have a more practical, though unconscious, shared motivation: to reduce the work for those involved.

Joseph P. Santamaria and David A. Rosenbaum of Pennsylvania State University concluded from their research that helping other people in daily life may come from an unconscious motivation to reduce the overall work involved in living. “The researchers videotaped people approaching and passing through the door of a university building. The tapes were analyzed for the relationships among several behaviors: Did the first person hold the door for a follower or followers and for how long? How did the likelihood of holding the door depend on the distance between the first person at the door and whomever followed?”


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