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

  • Fehr, Ernst


    (University of Zurich)

  • Henrich, Joseph


    (Emory University)

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 signalling 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.

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Paper provided by Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in its series IZA Discussion Papers with number 712.

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Length: 37 pages
Date of creation: Feb 2003
Date of revision:
Publication status: published in: P. Hammerstein (ed.), Genetic and Cultural Evolution of Cooperation, Cambridge: MIT Press, 2004
Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp712
Contact details of provider: Postal: IZA, P.O. Box 7240, D-53072 Bonn, Germany
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  1. Rajiv Sethi & E.Somanathan, 2002. "Understanding reciprocity," Indian Statistical Institute, Planning Unit, New Delhi Discussion Papers 02-05, Indian Statistical Institute, New Delhi, India.
  2. Lars P. Feld & Bruno S. Frey, . "Trust Breeds Trust: How Taxpayers are Treated," IEW - Working Papers 098, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.
  3. Ernst Fehr & John A. List, 2004. "The Hidden Costs and Returns of Incentives-Trust and Trustworthiness Among CEOs," Journal of the European Economic Association, MIT Press, vol. 2(5), pages 743-771, 09.
  4. Armin Falk & Ernst Fehr & Urs Fischbacher, . "Driving Forces of Informal Sanctions," IEW - Working Papers 059, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.
  5. Ernst Fehr & Urs Fischbacher & Bernhard von Rosenbladt & Jürgen Schupp & Gert G. Wagner, 2002. "A Nation-Wide Laboratory: Examining Trust and Trustworthiness by Integrating Behavioral Experiments into Representative Surveys," Discussion Papers of DIW Berlin 319, DIW Berlin, German Institute for Economic Research.
  6. Simon Gachter & Ernst Fehr, 2000. "Cooperation and Punishment in Public Goods Experiments," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(4), pages 980-994, September.
  7. Herbert Gintis, 2000. "Strong Reciprocity and Human Sociality," UMASS Amherst Economics Working Papers 2000-02, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Department of Economics.
  8. Stutzer, Alois, 2004. "The role of income aspirations in individual happiness," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 54(1), pages 89-109, May.
  9. Falk, Armin & Fischbacher, Urs, 2006. "A theory of reciprocity," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 54(2), pages 293-315, February.
  10. Armin Falk & Ernst Fehr & Urs Fischbacher, 2005. "Driving Forces Behind Informal Sanctions," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 73(6), pages 2017-2030, November.
  11. 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).
  12. M. Rabin, 2001. "Incorporating Fairness into Game Theory and Economics," Levine's Working Paper Archive 511, David K. Levine.
  13. Amir, Rabah & Evstigneev, Igor V. & Hens, Thorsten & Schenk-Hoppe, Klaus Reiner, 2005. "Market selection and survival of investment strategies," Journal of Mathematical Economics, Elsevier, vol. 41(1-2), pages 105-122, February.
  14. Gachter, Simon & Falk, Armin, 2002. " Reputation and Reciprocity: Consequences for the Labour Relation," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 104(1), pages 1-26.
  15. 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.
  16. 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.
  17. Ernst Fehr & Simon Gachter & Georg Kirchsteiger, 2001. "Reciprocity as a Contract Enforcement Device," Levine's Working Paper Archive 563824000000000143, David K. Levine.
  18. Sethi, Rajiv & Somanathan, E., 2001. "Preference Evolution and Reciprocity," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 97(2), pages 273-297, April.
  19. 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.
  20. Samuel Bowles & Herbert Gintis, 1998. "The Evolution of Strong Reciprocity," Research in Economics 98-08-073e, Santa Fe Institute.
  21. Ralf Becker & Urs Fischbacher & Thorsten Hens, . "Soft Landing of a Stock Market Bubble, An Experimental Study," IEW - Working Papers 090, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.
  22. Lisa Cameron, 1995. "Raising the Stakes in the Ultimatum Game: Experimental Evidence From Indonesia," Working Papers 724, Princeton University, Department of Economics, Industrial Relations Section..
  23. Alvin E. Roth & V. Prasnikar & M. Okuno-Fujiwara & S. Zamir, 1998. "Bargaining and market behavior in Jerusalem, Liubljana, Pittsburgh and Tokyo: an experimental study," Levine's Working Paper Archive 344, David K. Levine.
  24. Eric Alden Smith & Samuel Bowles & Herbert Gintis, 2000. "Costly Signaling and Cooperation," Working Papers 00-12-071, Santa Fe Institute.
  25. 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.
  26. 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.
  27. Bruno S. Frey & Stephan Meier, . "Pro-Social Behavior, Reciprocity or Both?," IEW - Working Papers 107, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.
  28. Bruno S. Frey & Stephan Meier, . "Selfish and Indoctrinated Economists?," IEW - Working Papers 103, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.
  29. Bruno S. Frey & Simon Luechinger, . "Terrorism: Deterrence May Backfire," IEW - Working Papers 136, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.
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