Increased costs reduce reciprocal helping behaviour of humans in a virtual evacuation experiment

Nikolai Bode, Jordan Miller, Rick O'Gorman, Edward Codling

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)
299 Downloads (Pure)


Altruistic behaviour is widespread and highly developed in humans and can also be found in some animal species. It has been suggested that altruistic tendencies can depend on costs, benefits and context. Here, we investigate the changes in the occurrence of helping behaviour in a computer-based experiment that simulates an evacuation from a building exploring the effect of varying the cost to help. Our findings illuminate a number of key mechanistic aspects of human decision-making about whether to help or not. In a novel situation where it is difficult to assess the risks associated with higher costs, we reproduce the finding that increasing costs reduce helping and find that the reduction in the frequency of helping behaviour is gradual rather than a sudden transition for a threshold cost level. Interestingly, younger and male participants were more likely to help. We provide potential explanations for this result relating to the nature of our experiment. Finally, we find no evidence that participants in our experiment plan ahead over two consecutive, inter-dependent helping opportunities when conducting cost-benefit trade-offs in spontaneous decisions. We discuss potential applications of our findings to research into decision-making during evacuations.
Original languageEnglish
Article number15896
Number of pages13
JournalScientific Reports
Publication statusPublished - 6 Nov 2015

Bibliographical note

accepted: 07 October 2015

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