, Volume 6, Issue 1, pp 79-89

Altruism towards panhandlers: Who gives?

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Abstract

This study investigates an example of human altruism which is neither kin-directed nor reciprocal: giving to a panhandler. Data were collected on the proportions of passers-by who gave to panhandlers in Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts. Three hypotheses were tested, each predicting that passers-by should behave “selfishly,” capitalizing on opportunities that, in an evolutionarily appropriate context, could increase mating success. Male passers-by, when alone, gave disproportionately to female panhandlers. Male passers-by, when in the company of a female partner, disproportionately avoided giving to female panhandlers. Male passers-by in the company of a female partner did not “show off” by giving disproportionately to male panhandlers.

Paul Ewald and Marc Hauser provided useful statistical advice. Richard Wrangham, Colin Chapman, and two anonymous reviewers made invaluable comments on the manuscript.
Tony Goldberg is a doctoral candidate in biological anthropology at Harvard University, where he is studying evolutionary genetics and biogeography in East African chimpanzees. He received his B.A. in Biology from Amherst College (1990) and has conducted field research on hummingbirds and chimpanzees.