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Buy someone a pizza. Because, science.

You can request a free pizza on Reddit. And researchers who study altruism are watching closely and taking notes.

August 26, 2014

If you’re broke, hungry and in desperate need of some tasty noms, the internet has your back. On the Random Acts of Pizza subreddit, people can post a request for a pizza (or two), and give the reasons why they’re asking.

Other users who are bursting with generosity (and who have spare cash on hand) can choose to fulfill those requests. Tens of thousands have used this thread to spread the pizza love.

What does this have to do with science? Computer scientists from Stanford are observing the thread as a way to study altruistic behavior in humans. The researchers wanted to know what motivated someone to order a pizza for a complete stranger and published a study in May that analyzed more than 5,700 free pizza requests.

The strongest factor that persuaded people to buy pizza for others was their perception of need — how urgent and critical did a request for pizza appear? Requests from the unemployed and poor were the most likely to be filled. Least likely were those who simply had the drunk munchies or a spur-of-the-moment craving. More interesting, however, was the impact of other variables. Longer posts expressing gratitude and pledges to “pay it forward” had a higher success than shorter, less desperate-sounding requests.

What makes Random Acts of Pizza so compelling is that there is no reward for these charitable acts. Unlike tax-deductions for donations to non-profits, or crowdfunded projects with built in prizes, Random Acts of Pizza’s only incentive is to make someone’s day.

The researchers hope to use this information to understand how to shape projects that rely on altruistic behaviors. “Maybe you set up a community in a way in which people help each other out effectively,” study co-author Tim Althoff told Fast Company.

Regardless of how far this research goes, it’s a wonderful thing to see pizza finally make its way into a scientific endeavor. It also makes me want to write up a request and see if someone else can find it in their heart to make my wish come true. (Please??)

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About the Author

Neel Patel currently holds B.S. in biology from Virginia Tech. Writing has always been his fiercest passion in life, and it was during a brief stint working in an immunology lab that he decided to pursue science writing. Before being accepted to SHERP, he worked as an editorial intern for The American Horticultural Society. His biggest scientific expertise is in human disease and pathology, but there is no topic or issue he wouldn’t write about. His other interests include metaphysics, pop culture, and everything in between. You can follow him on twitter at @n_vpatel.

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