Altruism is contagious, says Nicholas Christakis, who captured the ‘pay-it-forward’ phenomenon in the lab by analyzing data from experiments that used a “public goods game.” He found that participants who received funds from other participants they didn’t know were more likely to give money to strangers in a future game. Christakis sees kindness as one of several pro-social tendencies that are key to maintaining social cohesion. A number of studies have shown that there are major health benefits from volunteering - as long as the motivation is unselfish. “It’s not how much you do for others, but the kindness you pour into it,” says Stephen Post, who heads the board of directors of a nonprofit that disseminates research on the health benefits of kind giving.

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