Prosocial connections

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On most weekdays, I start my online day by reading Stephen Downes’ OLDaily.

I admire Stephen’s willingness to share openly.

I feel profoundly grateful that he does share.

Some time ago (2006), Jo-Ann Tsang defined gratitude as:

A positive emotional reaction to the receipt of a benefit that is perceived to have resulted from the good intentions of another.

Stephen’s open sharing has encouraged me to share openly too, nourished by what I hope are “good intentions” (Attila Szolnoki and Matjaz Perc, 2013).

I understand that many people are reluctant to engage in open sharing. I spend a lot of time advocating for and discussing the use of open educational resources with those who are nervous about so doing.

A paper by Patricia Lockwood and her colleagues (Matthew Apps, Vincent Valton, Essi Viding and Jonathan Roiser) published online before print (15 August, 2016) has helped me think about my arguments in favour of prosocial behaviour. They have introduced me to the subgenual anterior cingulate cortex/basal forebrain (sgACC).

Patricia and her colleagues observe that the sgACC “drives learning only when we are acting in a prosocial context”. They add:

However, there is also substantial variability in the neural and behavioral efficiency of prosocial learning, which is predicted by trait empathy. More empathic people learn more quickly when benefitting others, and their sgACC response is the most selective for prosocial learning.

Their paper explores this prosocial behaviour and considers how their findings might help us understand the behaviour of those people with “disorders of social cognition”.

In their study of altruism, Frans de Waal, Kristin Leimgruber and Amanda Greenberg (2008) reported that prosocial behaviour with a partner was a favoured option “provided their partner was a) familiar, b) visible, and c) receiving rewards of equal value”.  They added:

Prosocial tendencies increased with social closeness, being lowest toward strangers and highest toward kin.

Perhaps it is because I perceive receiving Stephen’s OLDaily as a letter from a friend that I am encouraged to share too. The literature on primates suggests that I should work much harder at understanding differences and traits … and hopefully become familiar and trusted.

Photo Credit

Mercedes Bends and Altruism Rules (Newtown Grafitti, CC BY 2.0)

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