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One of the more extraordinary phenomena on the Internet is the rise of altruism and of websites designed to enable it. The Random Acts of Pizza section of the Reddit website is a good example. People leave messages asking for pizza which others fulfill if they find the story compelling. As the site says: The purpose is to have fun, eat pizza and help each other out. Together, we aim to restore faith in humanity, one slice at a time. A request might go something like this: That raises an interesting question.

What kinds of requests are most successful in getting a response? Today, we get an answer thanks to the work of Tim Althoff at Stanford University and a couple of pals who lift the veil on the previously murky question of how to ask for a favor—and receive it. Their approach is straightforward. They analyze requests on the Random Acts of Pizza site and look for features that successful ones have on common.

They begin by downloading the entire history of the site from December to September This is more than 21, posts, which includes requests, fulfillment notes, and other posts. They then looked at each person who had posted on the site and downloaded their entire history of posts across the whole of Reddit. That added up to a total of 1. Finally, they filtered out requests where it was unclear whether they had been fulfilled, leaving a total of 5, requests. Of these, they were able to identify the benefactor in cases.

They analyzed how various features might be responsible for the success of a post, such as the politeness of the post; its sentiment, whether positive or negative, for example; its length. The team also looked at the similarity of the requester to the benefactor; and also the status of the requester. Finally, they examined whether the post contained evidence of need in the form of a narrative that described why the requester needed free pizza.

Althoff and co used a standard machine learning algorithm to comb through all the possible correlations in 70 percent of the data, which they used for training. Having found various correlations, they tested to see whether this had predictive power in the remaining 30 percent of the data. In other words, can their algorithm predict whether a previously unseen request will be successful or not? It turns out that their algorithm makes a successful prediction about 70 percent of the time.

So what kinds of factors are important? Narrative is a key part of many of the posts, so Althoff and co spent some time categorizing the types of stories people use. They divided the narratives into five types, those that mention: Of these, narratives about jobs, family, and money increase the probability of success. Student narratives have no effect while craving narratives significantly reduce the chances of success.

In other words, narratives that communicate a need are more successful than those that do not. And evidence of reciprocation helps too. Given these narrative requirements, it is not surprising that longer requests tend to be more successful than short ones. So for example, the following request was successful because it clearly demonstrates both need and evidence of reciprocation.

She is currently petitioning to have unemployment reinstated due to medical reasons for being unable to perform her job, but until then things are really tight and ANYTHING would help us out right now. It took everything we have to pay rent today and some food would go a long ways towards making our next couple of days go by much better with some food.

Althoff and co also say that the status of the requester is an important factor, too. But surprisingly, being polite does not help except by offering thanks. Until now, psychologists have never understood the factors that make requests successful, largely because it has always been difficult to separate the influence of the request from what is being requested.

The key here is that everybody making requests in this study wants the same thing—pizza. In one swoop, this makes the data significantly easier to tease apart. An important line of future work will be in using his work to understand altruistic behavior in other communities, too. How to Ask for a Favor: Emerging Technology from the arXiv Emerging Technology from the arXiv covers the latest ideas and technologies that appear on the Physics arXiv preprint server.

It is part of the Physics arXiv Blog. KentuckyFC arxivblog. From our advertisers. In association with Intel. Produced in association with IBM.

I'm 27 and for the last 7 years I was in a serious relationship. We lived together had a house and we're going to be married. The last 3. I can't really picture how dating strangers would work though. So you randomly meet someone and you have a conversation and you get their.

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One of the more extraordinary phenomena on the Internet is the rise of altruism and of websites designed to enable it. The Random Acts of Pizza section of the Reddit website is a good example.

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The conversations range from exasperating to disturbing, and the whole of it may make you want to roll your eyes in disgust.

Moving to another country can get challenging: Stress of moving, starting a new study or a job, leaving friends and family behind… who has the stamina?

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