Is being “nice” just “selfish” behavior?

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

Bees naturally work together in the hive, but they may have been bossed around by the queen long ago to learn those behaviors.

Earlier this year, a pair of scientists from Michigan State University created a virtual world filled with selfless and selfish people. The researchers noticed that selfless people were more likely to stay alive compared to the greedy group, which either died off or survived by sharing. This study left us with a resounding message: you should be kind to others, since it‘s better for you! Hey, wait a minute. If helping others is good for you… does that actually make you selfish? According to the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS), absolutely! Well, actually, it makes you a manipulator –  someone who manipulates (changes) other people to meet their own needs. Does that mean nice people are just running around cackling while they trick others into doing kind deeds for them? Nah, it’s just human nature.

The researchers created a mathematical model of a “eusocial” group – a society that selflessly divides work and childcare equally amongst members – like bees. In a beehive, one queen has all the babies while the rest of the insects work to collect pollen, make honey, and raise the babies. Sounds great right? Everyone cooperates and everyone wins. However, it wasn’t always so natural and peaceful.

The eusocial model used in the NIMBioS research study featured a queen, a set of older kids, and a bunch of babies. Well, since a queen bee can lay more than 1,000 eggs per day, you can imagine she needed a bit of help babysitting. The older kids would bee the perfect helping hand! Sorry, I couldn’t resist. The scientists had the queen manipulate some of the older kids to stay home and help her out. It wasn’t too difficult. All she did was keep them hungry enough to stay home for food, or acted aggressive to keep them in the hive.

Based on the results, the ones that weren’t manipulated were more likely to die off, while the ones that stayed home were more likely to live. The researchers hint that over time, it became easier to keep the older kids home and help out, until being altruistic was almost second nature!

I always did think it was a bit strange that bees were happy to work all day while their queen did nothing but have babies. Apparently, it’s in their nature.