“The power of kindness, one slice at a time,” is the motto of popular subthread “Random Acts Of Pizza” on the Reddit site. Thousands have received pizza from strangers but researchers at Stanford University had a hard time believing that it’s a simple random act of kindness that sees some receive a pizza and others left slighted and, well, hungry.

Reddit pizza

That prompted the researchers to look at 5,728 successful pizza requests and find what they had in common.

“Online platforms have created a new mechanism for people to seek aid from other users,” the Stanford report said, pointing to online communities like Q&A sites or philanthropy groups, which are created for the express purpose of helping people.

“However, the factors that lead to requests being fulfilled are still largely unknown,” the study said. “We attribute this to the fact that the study of how one should ask for a favor is often complicated by large effects of what the requester is actually asking for.”

“Scientific speak” aside there were a number of similarities in successful requests and author Christian Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil suggests the following:

Explain the need

Whether or not it’s the truth, requests found more success when a need was explained. A simple craving, there is beer in the house but no pizza, or you just got too stoned to drive are rarely favorably received. Lost your job? Children hungry? Out of food stamps? This resonate more with the altruistic community of “pizza santas.”

While the study is confined to Reddit’s pizza site, these aren’t bad life lessons.

“You want to show urgency, you want to show that you really need this,” Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil said.

Pay it forward, or say you will

People understand that you are in need, and if you can convey the sense that once your situation has improved you will happily send a pizza to others goes a long ways according to the researchers. Never mind that most will do no such thing, though there is a special place in hell for them.

“It’s what we call generalized reciprocity,” Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil said. “This means I’m going to buy you or someone else a pizza once I get one.”

“It’s quite surprising, because less than 10 percent actually follow through on that promise,” he added. “Still, just indicating your willingness to pay it forward, even if you never do, makes a big difference.”

Somewhat surprising, manners don’t seems to matter much

While the data might go towards proving this, it’s a horrible way to go through life in a land (the Internet) often bereft of manners and common courtesy.

People visiting the site, are either there to get a pizza or give one. For the givers, they know why you and others are there.

If you’re there, everyone knows you’re asking for a pizza. No one is surprised. So it’s not imposing,” said Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil.

Bon Apetite and pay it forward when you can.