In this episode, Matthew Syed explores how the effects of a seemingly small moment of generosity can ripple outwards, with significant consequences. He considers where this impulse to give to other people comes from and why we go out of our way to help others, sometimes at a cost to ourselves.

With Felix Warneken, Professor of Psychology at the University of Michigan; Dr Michael Rees, kidney transplant surgeon and founder of the Alliance for Paired Kidney Donation; and psychologist Scott Kaufman.


There’s an idea that’s been percolating for about four centuries: that humans are born selfish, and that we have to be taught to care about others.

This was popularized in the 17th century by the philosopher Thomas Hobbes, and it’s stuck around ever since. A prime example is Richard Dawkins’ best selling book, The Selfish Gene. In the first edition he writes, “let us try to teach generosity and altruism, because we are born selfish.”

But Felix Warneken, who’s a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, has made some interesting discoveries that profoundly challenge this notion. To do this, Felix has had to spend countless hours in the company of toddlers.

Listen to the complete podcast in BBC Radio 4