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Cooperation, Reciprocity and Punishment in Fifteen Small-scale Societies

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Listed:
  • Joseph Henrich
  • Robert Boyd
  • Samuel Bowles
  • Colin Camerer
  • Ernst Fehr
  • Herbert Gintis
  • Richard McElreath

Abstract

Recent investigations have uncovered large, consistent deviations from the predictions of the textbook representation of Homo Economicus: in addition to their own material payoffs, many experimental subjects appear to care about fairness and reciprocity and reward those who act in a cooperative manner while punishing those who do not even when these actions are costly to the individual. These deviations from what we will term the canonical Economic Man model have important consequences for a wide range of economic phenomena, including the optimal design of institutions and contracts, the allocation of property rights, the conditions for successful collective action, the analysis of incomplete contracts, and the persistence of noncompetitive wage premia. However, existing research is limited because virtually all subjects have been university students: we would like to know how universal these behaviors are and whether they vary with local cultural or economic environments. To address these questions we and our collaborators (11 anthropologists and 1 economist) conducted ultimatum, public good, and dictator game experiments with subjects from fifteen hunter gatherer, nomadic herding and other small-scale societies exhibiting a wide variety of economic and cultural conditions. We can summarize our results as follows. First, the Economic Man model is not supported in any society studied. Second, there is considerably more behavioral variability across groups than had been found in previous cross-cultural research and the canonical model fails in a wider variety of ways than in previous experiments. Third, group-level differences in the structure of everyday social interactions explain a substantial portion of the behavioral variation across societies: the higher the degree of market integration and the higher the payoffs to cooperation in the production of their livelihood, the greater the level of cooperation in experimental games. Fourth, individual-level economic and demographic variables do not explain behavior either within or across groups. Fifth, behavior in the experiments is generally consistent with economic patterns of everyday life in these societies.

Suggested Citation

  • Joseph Henrich & Robert Boyd & Samuel Bowles & Colin Camerer & Ernst Fehr & Herbert Gintis & Richard McElreath, 2001. "Cooperation, Reciprocity and Punishment in Fifteen Small-scale Societies," Working Papers 01-01-007, Santa Fe Institute.
  • Handle: RePEc:wop:safiwp:01-01-007
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    References listed on IDEAS

    as
    1. Ernst Fehr & Simon G├Ąchter, 2000. "Fairness and Retaliation: The Economics of Reciprocity," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 14(3), pages 159-181, Summer.
    2. Roth, Alvin E. & Vesna Prasnikar & Masahiro Okuno-Fujiwara & Shmuel Zamir, 1991. "Bargaining and Market Behavior in Jerusalem, Ljubljana, Pittsburgh, and Tokyo: An Experimental Study," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 81(5), pages 1068-1095, December.
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