Religion as a Seed Crystal for Altruistic Cooperation
The ability to solve problems of collective action is crucial for economic performance. Growth-fostering behavioral propensities such as respecting property, honoring contracts, or helping others are collectively beneficial but individually costly. The paradigmatic formalization of this rationality gap is provided by the non-iterated Prisoners’ Dilemma, where rational players are locked in at a state of mutual defection while mutual cooperation would be better for everyone. In sporadic, ex-ante anonymous interactions (like in modern large-scale societies), the ‘shadow of the future’ cannot sustain cooperation. Cooperation must be altruistic, in the sense that a cooperator enhances her opponent’s payoff at her own expense. In this piece of work another group selection mechanism is presented that generates and sustains altruism in ex-ante anonymous settings. Assuming that cooperative attitudes are coupled with a preference for participating in costly rituals (religious involvement is taken as an example), interactions take place within two endogenously separated groups. The signaling value of religion in the model derives not from differential costliness but from cooperators’ intrinsic nature of motivation. Noncooperative types have to learn about the matching gains from religious involvement while cooperative types need not. This induces an initial advantage to cooperative/religious types at the beginning of each generation, thereby sustaining altruism in the long run via religious participation.
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