Educated people more likely to help a stranger

13 Dec 2019 | 2 mins

People from highly educated neighbourhoods are more likely to help a stranger, according to a study by researchers at The University of Western Australia and Edith Cowan University.

Study author Dr Cyril Grueter, from UWA’s School of Human Sciences, said that while altruism was a universal human trait, little was known about its specific links to someone’s socioeconomic background.

“Previous research by us and others has suggested that residents of high-SES areas are more likely to feel concern for the welfare of others,” Dr Grueter said.

“What we’ve found is that a person’s willingness to help a stranger depends on their socioeconomic environment.

“But what exactly is it about socioeconomic status that makes people go out of their way to help a stranger?”

The study, published in Evolutionary Human Sciencesinvestigated the relationships between various undeserved measures of socioeconomic status and acts of kindness.

The researchers used a field experiment to investigate pro-social behaviour. Study co-author Grace Westlake dropped 600 envelopes across a range of 20 Perth suburbs and recorded how many were delivered.

The results show that the usual suspects – crime and economic resources – were not associated with the likelihood of a letter being returned. Instead it was educational attainment and occupation status that had a profound positive effect on helping behaviour.

“The precise reason why altruism flourishes in areas that are populated with highly educated individuals working in high-status jobs requires further investigation,” Dr Grueter said.

“But these results offer a fascinating glimpse into community attitudes and may also prove relevant for policy development and intervention.”

Media references

Dr Cyril Grueter (UWA School of Human Sciences) (08) 6488 8643 / 0406 619 556
Simone Hewett (UWA Media and PR Manager) 08 6488 3229 / 0432 637 716

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