According to a new study published in the journal Science Advances, people want to help each other, even when it costs them something.

This is the first study to examine how all the established motivations to be generous interact with one another.

“We wanted to do an exhaustive study to see what the effects of those motivations would be when combined — because they are combined in the real world, where people are making choices about how generous or kind to be with one another,” said David Melamed, lead author of the study and an associate professor of sociology at The Ohio State University.

Melamed said that prior to the experiment, he thought the motivations for kindness might cancel one another out.

For example, a person may be less likely to reward another’s generosity toward a third person when they are focused on directly giving back help that they received.

However, the researchers found that people overwhelmingly chose to be generous to others — even to strangers — regardless of how the motivations intertwined. 

This research helps us understand the remarkable quantity and diversity of altruism we see in humans.

“From an evolutionary perspective, it’s kind of perplexing that it even exists, because you’re decreasing your own fitness on behalf of others,” Melamed said. “And yet, we see it in bees and ants, and humans and throughout all of nature.”