Human Generosity Project

Cooperation in an Uncertain World: The Human Generosity Project from East Africa to Southern Appalachian

On Tuesday, September 26, the Loyal Jones Appalachian Center welcomed Dr. Lee Cronk and Dr. Helen Wasielewski for the first Dinner on the Grounds of the fall semester. They shared their work with The Human Generosity Project and experiences they’ve gained along the way.

It all began with observance of the Maasai system of livestock sharing and risk pooling known as osotua in East Africa.  That work gained both attention and collaborators, leading eventually to the Human Generosity Project, an effort to better understand sharing, generosity, and cooperation across cultures. By working closely together, a team of anthropologists, psychologists and computer scientists capitalize on important synergies. Together they build models, design experiments and develop plans for fieldwork to better understand the conditions that facilitate human generosity.

Professor of anthropology at Rutgers University and co-director of the Human Generosity Project, Dr. Cronk spoke about his time in East Africa, with the Maasai people, and then his time in the Malpai region – the border between Arizona and New Mexico – studying the Ranchers that live there. Dr. Cronks research shows that even American ranchers – celebrated in popular culture for their rugged individualism – have created a network of cooperation in which they help each other with tasks such as branding or shipping, as well as providing support in the event of an injury, much like the Maasai.

Helen Wasielewski is a post-doctoral researcher on the Human Generosity Project with a Ph.D. in Anthropology from Rutgers University. Helen is an evolutionary anthropologist who focuses on understanding the evolution of proximate mechanisms supporting uniquely human social behaviors. She shared her work examining the relationships between food sharing and the evolution of cooperative behavior. During the summer of 2017, Helen conducted her research in the southeastern region of Kentucky where she collected interviews and survey data on sharing and helping.

To learn more about the Human Generosity Project visit

Article Written by Kiley Davis