Reciprocal altruism – My Experiments with my grandkids


“Naan avanai tiruppiam adichutten thata” – said my 3-year old grand-daughter proudly.( I hit him again, grandpa). She is referring to her ongoing one-sided battles with her younger cousin. How does one handle this? Opinions within our house are divided. My wife and my second daughter decided to encourage him to hit back. The logic is that once my granddaughter realizes that she would be paid back in the same coin, she would understand the cost of being aggressive. My first daughter, however, says this is not right since it is leading to a never-ending cycle of hitting and counter-hitting. I kept silent and decided instead to do some experiments.

We bought two toys – a bus for my granddaughter and an auto-rickshaw for my grandson who is obsessed with this vehicle. As expected they picked up a quarrel on the rights of ownership over the toys. A peaceful resolution was not in sight as both the kids seemed to believe in the age-old principle of Might is right. So I tried to devise a trivial game using both the toys and a baby doll. The baby doll would take an auto ride first before taking the bus to go to a market nearby. Now, the game became more interesting to them than the ownership issue of the toys. This worked for a while. They could get more pleasure out of sharing the toys than merely owning just one toy. This is of course an old trick which all of us know of. When we go to a restaurant with friends, we order different items from the menu and share them.

The other experiment was in a park where both the kids wanted to play the slide at the same time. Here again the aggressive kid was shoving and pushing the milder one to make sure she was always ahead of the other kid on the slide. No amount of sermonizing would help change her behaviour. So I decided to try out a game. Here each kid, by turn, will get on the slide and slide down while the other kid would stand at the other end of the slide with open arms to receive and hug. Both enjoyed this game immensely at least for a while. Here again it’s the same principle of trying to maximise pleasure the by cooperating and working together instead of competing and fighting. Here are the photographs of the game being played:






I’m not suggesting that the problems between them have vanished for ever. Obviously, one has to keep inventing newer games to keep them interested in cooperation. It proves, though, that the solution doesn’t lie in encouraging the other kid to hit back.

Evolutionary psychologists say that people are altruistic not out of love for each other but because they understand the basic human principle that – if I’m nice to you, you will be nice to me too. This is reciprocal altruism, which is innate in all human beings. This is an adaptation that evolved over millions of years as a mechanism for survival.


Published in: on December 4, 2016 at 4:37 pm  Comments (2)  

The URI to TrackBack this entry is:

RSS feed for comments on this post.

2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Well done Thathaji.You are a real scientist trying out experiments to solve issues–scientific\psychological or social .Well done my boy,keep shring your wisdom.

    • Thanks for your nice comments. Nowadays, I read less of chemistry and more of behavioural sciences which is otherwise called evolutionary psychology. The amount of work being carried out is simply amazing.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: