Identifiable Altruism

Yoder, Christian N., and Scott A. Reid. 2019. “The Quality of Online Knowledge Sharing Signals General Intelligence.Personality and Individual Differences 148 (October): 90–94.

Some people share knowledge online, often without tangible compensation. Who does this, when, and why? According to costly signaling theory people use behavioral displays to provide observers with useful information about traits or states in exchange for fitness benefits. We tested whether individuals higher in general intelligence, g, provided better quality contributions to an information pool under high than low identifiability, and whether observers could infer signaler g from contribution quality. Using a putative online wiki (N = 98) we found that as individuals’ scores on Ravens Progressive Matrices (RPM) increased, participants were judged to have written better quality articles, but only when identifiable and not when anonymous. Further, the effect of RPM scores on inferred intelligence was mediated by article quality, but only when signalers were identifiable. Consistent with costly signaling theory, signalers are extrinsically motivated and observers act as “naive psychometricians.” We discuss the implications for understanding online information pools and altruism.

Humans don’t work for free.

Gold. USD. Online reputation. There needs to at least be something, because otherwise there will be nothing.

If I understand this right, this suggests that truly genuine altruism doesn’t really increase with intelligence after correcting for identifiability. That makes sense. The authors also point out that altruism is less costly for more intelligent individuals, since they are more easily able to recoup the costs of non-compensated altruism.

Anatoly Karlin is a transhumanist interested in psychometrics, life extension, UBI, crypto/network states, X risks, and ushering in the Biosingularity.


Inventor of Idiot’s Limbo, the Katechon Hypothesis, and Elite Human Capital.


Apart from writing booksreviewstravel writing, and sundry blogging, I Tweet at @powerfultakes and run a Substack newsletter.


  1. Yoder and Reid should be publicly flogged. I just do not see another cure for the stupidity of people like them.

  2. Amerimutt Golems says

    Fair observation but not everyone lives under the 1st Amendment e.g. Ernst Zündel and David Irving.

  3. Amerimutt Golems says


  4. prime noticer says

    the more intelligent you get the more quickly you can asses the ROI of something.

    even naturally helpful people become less freely helpful when they get older, after a few decades of randomly helping people and realizing they’re getting nothing out of it most of the time.

    the waiter’s curse – realizing that africans are zero ROI customers, but being forced to serve them with a smile anyway, after a decade of them being your most demanding customers then leaving you no tip.

    also pursuant to anatoly’s excellent work on bifurcation of science publication, i would guess that the language of internet knowledge sharing is also a good quick and dirty guide to the signal to noise ratio, and probably an upward ceiling on how intelligent the discussion can even be.

    nothing important happens in spanish. the counter intuitive result of a million high school teachers encouraging you to learn spanish. learn spanish to talk to who?

    counter, counter intuitive result – historical chinese writings probably also contain almost nothing of value. the chinese had nothing valuable to say, until very recently. in 2020, the hardest language to learn, where anything important happens. but how much does machine language translation reduce this barrier.

  5. centuries of Christianity has led people to think altruism means selfless whereas biologically it’s enlightened selfishness so the idea of costly signalling makes a lot of sense.

    not sure it would apply to taboo subjects though.

  6. Daniel Chieh says

    counter, counter intuitive result – historical chinese writings probably also contain almost nothing of value. the chinese had nothing valuable to say, until very recently

    This is much more suggestive instead that you have nothing valuable to say.

  7. Haruto Rat says

    Did the authors consider the possibility that intelligent people might be better at pretending to be intelligent even when they aren’t being so intelligent?