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The nature of human altruism

Author

Listed:
  • Ernst Fehr

    (University of Zuerich)

  • Urs Fischbacher

    (University of Zuerich)

Abstract

Some of the most fundamental questions concerning our evolutionary origins, our social relations, and the organization of society are centred around issues of altruism and selfishness. Experimental evidence indicates that human altruism is a powerful force and is unique in the animal world. However, there is much individual heterogeneity and the interaction between altruists and selfish individuals is vital to human cooperation. Depending on the environment, a minority of altruists can force a majority of selfish individuals to cooperate or, conversely, a few egoists can induce a large number of altruists to defect. Current gene-based evolutionary theories cannot explain important patterns of human altruism, pointing towards the importance of both theories of cultural evolution as well as gene–culture co-evolution.

Suggested Citation

  • Ernst Fehr & Urs Fischbacher, 2004. "The nature of human altruism," Experimental 0402003, University Library of Munich, Germany.
  • Handle: RePEc:wpa:wuwpex:0402003
    Note: Type of Document - pdf; pages: 7
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    File URL: https://econwpa.ub.uni-muenchen.de/econ-wp/exp/papers/0402/0402003.pdf
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    Citations

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    Cited by:

    1. Urs Fischbacher & Simon G�chter, 2005. "Heterogeneous social preferences and the dynamics of free riding in public goods," IEW - Working Papers 261, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.
    2. Simon Gaechter & Benedikt Herrmann, 2006. "The limits of self-governance in the presence of spite: Experimental evidence from urban and rural Russia," Discussion Papers 2006-13, The Centre for Decision Research and Experimental Economics, School of Economics, University of Nottingham.
    3. Martijn Egas & Arno Riedl, 2005. "The Economics of Altruistic Punishment and the Demise of Cooperation," Tinbergen Institute Discussion Papers 05-065/1, Tinbergen Institute.
    4. Johannes Schwarze & Rainer Winkelmann, 2005. "What Can Happiness Research Tell Us about Altruism?: Evidence from the German Socio-Economic Panel," Discussion Papers of DIW Berlin 475, DIW Berlin, German Institute for Economic Research.
    5. Jeffrey P. Carpenter & Peter Hans Matthews, 2012. "Norm Enforcement: Anger, Indignation, Or Reciprocity?," Journal of the European Economic Association, European Economic Association, vol. 10(3), pages 555-572, May.
    6. Jean-Yves Duclos, 2006. "Equity and Equality," Cahiers de recherche 0629, CIRPEE.
    7. Borghans, J.A.M. & Borghans, Lex & Weel, Bas ter, 2005. "Is There a Link between Economic Outcomes and Genetic Evolution? Cross-Country Evidence from the Major Histocompatibility Complex," Research Memorandum 029, Maastricht University, Maastricht Economic Research Institute on Innovation and Technology (MERIT).
    8. Nina Mazar & Dan Ariely, 2006. "Dishonesty in everyday life and its policy implications," Working Papers 06-3, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston.
    9. Ivo Bischoff, 2008. "Endowment effect theory, prediction bias and publicly provided goods: an experimental study," Environmental & Resource Economics, Springer;European Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, vol. 39(3), pages 283-296, March.
    10. Ernst Fehr & Urs Fischbacher, "undated". "Third Party Punishment and Social Norms," IEW - Working Papers 106, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.
    11. 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.
    12. Engseld, Peter & Bergh, Andreas, 2005. "Choosing Opponents in Games of Cooperation and Coordination," Working Papers 2005:1, Lund University, Department of Economics, revised 29 Nov 2005.
    13. Ernst Fehr & Urs Fischbacher, 2004. "Social norms and human cooperation," Macroeconomics 0409026, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    14. Engseld, Peter & Bergh, Andreas, 2005. "Choosing Opponents in Prisoners' Dilemma: An Evolutionary Analysis," Working Papers 2005:45, Lund University, Department of Economics.

    More about this item

    Keywords

    altruism; selfishness; human altruism; evolution;

    JEL classification:

    • C9 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments
    • D63 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement
    • D64 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Altruism; Philanthropy; Intergenerational Transfers

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