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Competitive Altruism, Mentalizing and Signalling

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Abstract

The human tendency to cooperate with nonkin even in short-run relationships remains a puzzle. Recently it has been hypothesized that altruism may be a byproduct of "mentalizing", the process of understanding and predicting the mental states of others. Another idea is based on sexual selection: altruism is a costly signal of good genes. The paper shows that these two arguments are stronger when combined in that altruists who can mentalize have a greater advantage over non-altruists when they can signal their type, even though these signals are costly. Further, once such an equilibrium is established, altruists will not be supplanted by mutants who have similar mentalizing abilities but who lack altruism.

Suggested Citation

  • Ed Hopkins, 2010. "Competitive Altruism, Mentalizing and Signalling," ESE Discussion Papers 197, Edinburgh School of Economics, University of Edinburgh.
  • Handle: RePEc:edn:esedps:197
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    File URL: http://www.econ.ed.ac.uk/papers/id197_esedps.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Tania Singer & Ernst Fehr, 2005. "The Neuroeconomics of Mind Reading and Empathy," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 95(2), pages 340-345, May.
    2. Guth, Werner, 1995. "An Evolutionary Approach to Explaining Cooperative Behavior by Reciprocal Incentives," International Journal of Game Theory, Springer;Game Theory Society, vol. 24(4), pages 323-344.
    3. Garfinkel, Michelle R. & Skaperdas, Stergios (ed.), 2012. "The Oxford Handbook of the Economics of Peace and Conflict," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780195392777.
    4. Frank, Robert H, 1987. "If Homo Economicus Could Choose His Own Utility Function, Would He Want One with a Conscience?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 77(4), pages 593-604, September.
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    More about this item

    Keywords

    altruism; sexual selection; mentalizing; social preferences; signalling; tournaments; evolution;

    JEL classification:

    • C73 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Game Theory and Bargaining Theory - - - Stochastic and Dynamic Games; Evolutionary Games
    • D64 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Altruism; Philanthropy; Intergenerational Transfers
    • D83 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Search; Learning; Information and Knowledge; Communication; Belief; Unawareness

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