Upstream Reciprocity*

As I navigate the waters of 622 and reflect on the many faces of openness in education I am fortunate to have uncovered novel concepts in each unit that inspire me to be optimistic about the future of education globally and my own practice locally. If universal access to education is key to “building of peace, sustainable social and economic” on a global scale it it can also be key to nurturing altruism. Nowak and Roch (2006) described and explored the notion of upstream reciprocity, which occurs “when the recipients of an act of kindness are more likely to help others in turn, even if the person who benefits from their generosity is somebody else” (p. 605). Martin Weller (2011) shared Nowak and Roch’s conclusion that “although there is a cost associated with upstream reciprocity, it tends to evolve as a result of the positive feeling of gratitude and when direct reciprocity is also present, with a resultant increase in reciprocity and altruism in society as a whole” (p. 104).

A defining feature of networked 21st Century learning is the shift from a culture of secrecy to a culture of sharing. Weller goes on to argue “Sharing, and thus openness, is the base, the sine qua non of an online social network, since if no one shares then you cannot even begin to establish a network (p. 104). Nowak and Roch’s conclusion that there are enormous consequences of upstream reciprocity for human behaviour because gratitude, the key to upstream reciprocity can evolve through natural selection and argue that people who have received help online may other people, perhaps several and not only the one who helped the. Their research article culminates with an uplifting quote, “This can lead to an ‘epidemiology of altruism’ resulting in an explosive increase of altruistic acts. For a change, this is a pandemic which would be welcomed by all of us (p. 608). I am surprized each day by how the study ofopenness is reaping benefits for me that I could not possibly have predicted. I am forever grateful for that.

Nowak, M. and Roch, S. (2007), ‘“Upstream Reciprocity and the Evolution of Gratitude”’, Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 274: 605–10.

Weller, M. (2011). The Digital Scholar.