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

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  • Fehr, Ernst

    () (University of Zurich)

  • Henrich, Joseph

    () (Harvard University)

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 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.

Suggested Citation

  • Fehr, Ernst & Henrich, Joseph, 2003. "Is Strong Reciprocity a Maladaptation? On the Evolutionary Foundations of Human Altruism," IZA Discussion Papers 712, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  • Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp712
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Gummerum, Michaela & Hanoch, Yaniv & Keller, Monika & Parsons, Katie & Hummel, Alegra, 2010. "Preschoolers' allocations in the dictator game: The role of moral emotions," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 31(1), pages 25-34, February.
    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 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.
    4. 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.
    5. 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.
    6. Wolff, Irenaeus, 2009. "Counterpunishment revisited: an evolutionary approach," MPRA Paper 16923, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    7. Timothy Johnson, 2015. "Reciprocity as a Foundation of Financial Economics," Journal of Business Ethics, Springer, vol. 131(1), pages 43-67, September.
    8. 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.
    9. Fehr, Ernst & Williams, Tony, 2017. "Creating an Efficient Culture of Cooperation," IZA Discussion Papers 11131, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
    10. Kanazawa, Satoshi & Savage, Joanne, 2009. "An evolutionary psychological perspective on social capital," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 30(6), pages 873-883, December.
    11. Friedman, Daniel & Singh, Nirvikar, 2004. "Vengefulness Evolves in Small Groups," Santa Cruz Department of Economics, Working Paper Series qt0xp29105, Department of Economics, UC Santa Cruz.
    12. 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.
    13. Frederick Van der Ploeg, 2004. "The Welfare State, Redistribution and the Economy, Reciprocal Altruism, Consumer Rivalry and Second Best," CESifo Working Paper Series 1234, CESifo Group Munich.
    14. 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.
    15. Werner Güth & Vittoria Levati & Georg von Wangenheim, 2004. "Relatives Versus Neighbors - An Experiment Studying Spontaneous Social Exchange -," Papers on Strategic Interaction 2004-33, Max Planck Institute of Economics, Strategic Interaction Group.
    16. 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.
    17. 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.
    18. Burnham, Terence C., 2013. "Toward a neo-Darwinian synthesis of neoclassical and behavioral economics," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 90(S), pages 113-127.
    19. Henrich, Joseph, 2004. "Reply," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 53(1), pages 127-143, January.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    human altruism; evolutionary foundations; maladaptation; reciprocity;

    JEL classification:

    • A13 - General Economics and Teaching - - General Economics - - - Relation of Economics to Social Values
    • C70 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Game Theory and Bargaining Theory - - - General
    • C91 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Individual Behavior
    • C92 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Group Behavior

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