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How Altruism Can Prevail in an Evolutionary Environment


  • Theodore C. Bergstrom

    (University of Michigan, Dept of Economics)

  • Oded Stark


Why are economists convinced that {\it homo economicus}\/ is selfish? No doubt we find considerable support for this hypothesis in the behavior of our colleagues. Beyond this, a plausible evolutionary argument for selfishness would assert that if natural selection favors those who receive high payoffs, and if altruists get lower payoffs than selfish individuals, then evolution will tend to eliminate altruists. In this paper, we will show that, paradoxically, evolution can sustain cooperative behavior between relatives or neighbors even in single-shot prisoner's dilemma models, where cooperation benefits one's opponent at a cost to oneself.

Suggested Citation

  • Theodore C. Bergstrom & Oded Stark, 1994. "How Altruism Can Prevail in an Evolutionary Environment," Microeconomics 9401001, EconWPA.
  • Handle: RePEc:wpa:wuwpmi:9401001
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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Bergstrom, Theodore C, 1995. "On the Evolution of Altruistic Ethical Rules for Siblings," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 85(1), pages 58-81, March.
    2. Bergstrom, Theodore C & Stark, Oded, 1993. "How Altruism Can Prevail in an Evolutionary Environment," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(2), pages 149-155, May.
    3. Jack Hirshleifer, 1978. "Natural Economy Versus Political Economy," UCLA Economics Working Papers 129, UCLA Department of Economics.
    4. Donald Cox & Oded Stark, 1996. "Intergenerational Transfers and the Demonstration Effect," Boston College Working Papers in Economics 329., Boston College Department of Economics.
    5. Young, H Peyton, 1993. "The Evolution of Conventions," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 61(1), pages 57-84, January.
    6. Robson, Arthur J, 1992. "Status, the Distribution of Wealth, Private and Social Attitudes to Risk," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 60(4), pages 837-857, July.
    7. Binmore, Kenneth G. & Samuelson, Larry, 1992. "Evolutionary stability in repeated games played by finite automata," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 57(2), pages 278-305, August.
    8. Kandori, Michihiro & Mailath, George J & Rob, Rafael, 1993. "Learning, Mutation, and Long Run Equilibria in Games," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 61(1), pages 29-56, January.
    9. Hirshleifer, Jack, 1977. "Economics from a Biological Viewpoint," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 20(1), pages 1-52, April.
    10. Hansson, Ingemar & Stuart, Charles, 1990. "Malthusian Selection of Preferences," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 80(3), pages 529-544, June.
    11. Stark, Oded, 1989. "Altruism and the Quality of Life," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 79(2), pages 86-90, May.
    12. Bergstrom, Theodore C, 1999. " Systems of Benevolent Utility Functions," Journal of Public Economic Theory, Association for Public Economic Theory, vol. 1(1), pages 71-100.
    13. Binmore, K. & Samuelson, L., 1990. "Evolutionary Stability In Repeated Games Played By Finite Automata," Working papers 90-29, Wisconsin Madison - Social Systems.
    14. Friedman, Daniel, 1991. "Evolutionary Games in Economics," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 59(3), pages 637-666, May.
    15. Vives, Xavier, 1990. "Nash equilibrium with strategic complementarities," Journal of Mathematical Economics, Elsevier, vol. 19(3), pages 305-321.
    16. Milgrom, Paul & Roberts, John, 1990. "Rationalizability, Learning, and Equilibrium in Games with Strategic Complementarities," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 58(6), pages 1255-1277, November.
    17. Bernheim, B Douglas & Stark, Oded, 1988. "Altruism within the Family Reconsidered: Do Nice Guys Finish Last?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 78(5), pages 1034-1045, December.
    18. Stark, Oded, 1993. "Nonmarket transfers and altruism," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 37(7), pages 1413-1424, October.
    19. Bergstrom, Ted, 1989. "Love and Spaghetti, the Opportunity Cost of Virtue," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 3(2), pages 165-173, Spring.
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D1 - Microeconomics - - Household Behavior
    • D2 - Microeconomics - - Production and Organizations
    • D3 - Microeconomics - - Distribution
    • D4 - Microeconomics - - Market Structure, Pricing, and Design


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