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

  • Fehr, Ernst
  • Henrich, Joseph

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 behaviour 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.

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Paper provided by C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers in its series CEPR Discussion Papers with number 3860.

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Date of creation: Apr 2003
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Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:3860
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  1. repec:dgr:uvatin:20000011 is not listed on IDEAS
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  4. Ernst Fehr & John A. List, 2004. "THE HIDDEN COSTS AND RETURNS OF INCENTIVES — TRUST AND TRUSTWORTHINESS AMONG CEOs," Labor and Demography 0409012, EconWPA.
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  9. Sethi, Rajiv & Somanathan, E., 2003. "Understanding reciprocity," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 50(1), pages 1-27, January.
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  13. Lalive, Rafael & van Ours, Jan C. & Zweimüller, Josef, 2002. "The Effect of Benefit Sanctions on the Duration of Unemployment," IZA Discussion Papers 469, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
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  15. repec:dgr:kubcen:200219 is not listed on IDEAS
  16. Rajiv Sethi & E. Somanathan, 1999. "Preference Evolution and Reciprocity," Game Theory and Information 9903001, EconWPA, revised 12 Mar 1999.
  17. Ernst Fehr & Simon Gaechter, 1999. "Cooperation and Punishment in Public Goods Experiments," CESifo Working Paper Series 183, CESifo Group Munich.
  18. Bruno S. Frey & Stephan Meier, . "Selfish and Indoctrinated Economists?," IEW - Working Papers 103, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.
  19. Herbert Gintis, 2000. "Strong Reciprocity and Human Sociality," UMASS Amherst Economics Working Papers 2000-02, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Department of Economics.
  20. Eric Alden Smith & Samuel Bowles & Herbert Gintis, 2000. "Costly Signaling and Cooperation," Working Papers 00-12-071, Santa Fe Institute.
  21. Simon Gaechter & Armin Falk, . "Reputation and Reciprocity: Consequences for the Labour Relation," IEW - Working Papers 019, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.
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  23. 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.
  24. Robert Slonim & Alvin E. Roth, 1998. "Learning in High Stakes Ultimatum Games: An Experiment in the Slovak Republic," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 66(3), pages 569-596, May.
  25. Hoffman, Elizabeth & McCabe, Kevin A & Smith, Vernon L, 1996. "On Expectations and the Monetary Stakes in Ultimatum Games," International Journal of Game Theory, Springer, vol. 25(3), pages 289-301.
  26. Ernst Fehr & Urs Fischbacher & Bernhard von Rosenbladt & Jürgen Schupp & Gert G. Wagner, 2003. "A Nation-Wide Laboratory. Examining Trust and Trustworthiness by Integrating Behavioral Experiments into Representative Survey," CESifo Working Paper Series 866, CESifo Group Munich.
  27. Ernst Fehr & Urs Fischbacher, 2002. "Why Social Preferences Matter -- The Impact of Non-Selfish Motives on Competition, Cooperation and Incentives," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 112(478), pages C1-C33, March.
  28. Alois Stutzer, . "The Role of Income Aspirations in Individual Happiness," IEW - Working Papers 124, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.
  29. Ernst Fehr & Simon Gachter & Georg Kirchsteiger, 2001. "Reciprocity as a Contract Enforcement Device," Levine's Working Paper Archive 563824000000000143, David K. Levine.
  30. Keser, Claudia & van Winden, Frans, 2000. " Conditional Cooperation and Voluntary Contributions to Public Goods," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 102(1), pages 23-39, March.
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  32. Cameron, Lisa A, 1999. "Raising the Stakes in the Ultimatum Game: Experimental Evidence from Indonesia," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 37(1), pages 47-59, January.
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