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Is Strong Reciprocity a Maladaptation? On the Evolutionary Foundations of Human Altruism

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  • Ernst Fehr
  • Joseph Henrich

Abstract

In recent years a large number of experimental studies have documented the existence of strong reciprocity among humans. Strong reciprocity means that people willingly repay gifts and punish the violation of cooperation and fairness norms even in anonymous one-shot encounters with genetically unrelated strangers. We provide ethnographic and experimental evidence suggesting that ultimate theories of kin selection, reciprocal altruism, costly signaling and indirect reciprocity do not provide satisfactory evolutionary explanations of strong reciprocity. The problem of these theories is that they can rationalize strong reciprocity only if it is viewed as maladaptive behavior whereas the evidence suggests that it is an adaptive trait. Thus, we conclude that alternative evolutionary approaches are needed to provide ultimate accounts of strong reciprocity.

Suggested Citation

  • Ernst Fehr & Joseph Henrich, 2003. "Is Strong Reciprocity a Maladaptation? On the Evolutionary Foundations of Human Altruism," CESifo Working Paper Series 859, CESifo Group Munich.
  • Handle: RePEc:ces:ceswps:_859
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Armin Falk & Ernst Fehr & Urs Fischbacher, 2005. "Driving Forces Behind Informal Sanctions," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 73(6), pages 2017-2030, November.
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    5. Armin Falk & Ernst Fehr & Urs Fischbacher, "undated". "Driving Forces of Informal Sanctions," IEW - Working Papers 059, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.
    6. Claudia Keser & Frans Van Winden, 2000. "Conditional Cooperation and Voluntary Contributions to Public Goods," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 102(1), pages 23-39, March.
    7. Eric Alden Smith & Samuel Bowles & Herbert Gintis, 2000. "Costly Signaling and Cooperation," Working Papers 00-12-071, Santa Fe Institute.
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    9. Fischbacher, Urs & Gachter, Simon & Fehr, Ernst, 2001. "Are people conditionally cooperative? Evidence from a public goods experiment," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 71(3), pages 397-404, June.
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    11. Simon Gächter & Armin Falk, 2002. "Reputation and Reciprocity: Consequences for the Labour Relation," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 104(1), pages 1-26, March.
    12. M.A. Nowak & K. Sigmund, 1998. "Evolution of Indirect Reciprocity by Image Scoring/ The Dynamics of Indirect Reciprocity," Working Papers ir98040, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.
    13. Ernst Fehr & Simon Gachter & Georg Kirchsteiger, 2001. "Reciprocity as a Contract Enforcement Device," Levine's Working Paper Archive 563824000000000143, David K. Levine.
    14. Hoffman, Elizabeth & McCabe, Kevin A & Smith, Vernon L, 1996. "On Expectations and the Monetary Stakes in Ultimatum Games," International Journal of Game Theory, Springer;Game Theory Society, vol. 25(3), pages 289-301.
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Ernst Fehr & Tony Williams, 2017. "Social norms, endogenous sorting and the culture of cooperation," ECON - Working Papers 267, Department of Economics - University of Zurich, revised Apr 2018.
    2. Eric Schniter & Roman M. Sheremeta, 2014. "Predictable and Predictive Emotions: Explaining Cheap Signals and Trust Re-Extension," Working Papers 14-07, Chapman University, Economic Science Institute.
    3. Bruno Frey, 2005. "‘‘Just forget it.’’ Memory distortions as bounded rationality," Mind & Society: Cognitive Studies in Economics and Social Sciences, Springer;Fondazione Rosselli, vol. 4(1), pages 13-25, June.
    4. Timothy Johnson, 2015. "Reciprocity as a Foundation of Financial Economics," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 131(1), pages 43-67, September.
    5. Biele, Guido & Rieskamp, Jörg & Czienskowski, Uwe, 2008. "Explaining cooperation in groups: Testing models of reciprocity and learning," Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, Elsevier, vol. 106(2), pages 89-105, July.
    6. Bruno S. Frey & Simon Luechinger & Alois Stutzer, 2007. "Calculating Tragedy: Assessing The Costs Of Terrorism," Journal of Economic Surveys, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 21(1), pages 1-24, February.
    7. Fehr, Ernst & Williams, Tony, 2017. "Creating an Efficient Culture of Cooperation," IZA Discussion Papers 11131, Institute of Labor Economics (IZA).
    8. Kanazawa, Satoshi & Savage, Joanne, 2009. "An evolutionary psychological perspective on social capital," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 30(6), pages 873-883, December.
    9. Enrico De Giorgi & Stefan Reimann, "undated". "The ?-Beauty Contest: Choosing Numbers, Thinking Intervals," IEW - Working Papers 183, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.
    10. Heller, William B. & Sieberg, Katri K., 2010. "Honor among thieves: Cooperation as a strategic response to functional unpleasantness," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 26(3), pages 351-362, September.
    11. Werner Güth & Kurt-Dieter Koschmieder & M. Vittoria Levati & Ev Martin, 2005. "How to Preserve a Fortune: An Experimental Comparison of Foundations and Direct Transfers to the Heir," Papers on Strategic Interaction 2005-33, Max Planck Institute of Economics, Strategic Interaction Group.
    12. Bruno S. Frey & Alois Stutzer, "undated". "Direct Democracy: Designing a Living Constitution," IEW - Working Papers 167, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.

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