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

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  • Ernst Fehr
  • Joseph Henrich

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 signaling 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

  • Ernst Fehr & Joseph Henrich, "undated". "Markets Is Strong Reciprocity a Maladaptation? On the Evolutionary Foundations of Human Altruism," IEW - Working Papers 140, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.
  • Handle: RePEc:zur:iewwpx:140
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    File URL: http://www.econ.uzh.ch/static/wp_iew/iewwp140.pdf
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Ernst Fehr & Urs Fischbacher & Elena Tougareva, "undated". "Do High Stakes and Competition Undermine Fairness? Evidence from Russia," IEW - Working Papers 120, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.
    2. Falk, Armin & Fischbacher, Urs, 2006. "A theory of reciprocity," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 54(2), pages 293-315, February.
    3. Armin Falk & Ernst Fehr & Urs Fischbacher, "undated". "Driving Forces of Informal Sanctions," IEW - Working Papers 059, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics - University of Zurich.
    4. Fischbacher, Urs & Gachter, Simon & Fehr, Ernst, 2001. "Are people conditionally cooperative? Evidence from a public goods experiment," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 71(3), pages 397-404, June.
    5. Herbert Gintis, 2000. "Strong Reciprocity and Human Sociality," UMASS Amherst Economics Working Papers 2000-02, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Department of Economics.
    6. Gachter, Simon & Falk, Armin, 2002. " Reputation and Reciprocity: Consequences for the Labour Relation," Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 104(1), pages 1-26.
    7. Ernst Fehr & Simon Gachter & Georg Kirchsteiger, 2001. "Reciprocity as a Contract Enforcement Device," Levine's Working Paper Archive 563824000000000143, David K. Levine.
    8. Ernst Fehr & Urs Fischbacher & Simon G├Ąchter, 2003. "Strong Reciprocity, Human Cooperation and the Enforcement of Social Norms," Microeconomics 0305008, EconWPA.
    9. Simon Gachter & Ernst Fehr, 2000. "Cooperation and Punishment in Public Goods Experiments," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 90(4), pages 980-994, September.
    10. Samuel Bowles & Herbert Gintis, 1998. "The Evolution of Strong Reciprocity," Research in Economics 98-08-073e, Santa Fe Institute.
    11. Eric Alden Smith & Samuel Bowles & Herbert Gintis, 2000. "Costly Signaling and Cooperation," Working Papers 00-12-071, Santa Fe Institute.
    12. Cameron, Lisa A, 1999. "Raising the Stakes in the Ultimatum Game: Experimental Evidence from Indonesia," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 37(1), pages 47-59, January.
    13. Ernst Fehr & Urs Fischbacher, 2002. "Why Social Preferences Matter -- The Impact of Non-Selfish Motives on Competition, Cooperation and Incentives," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 112(478), pages 1-33, March.
    14. Colin F. Camerer & Richard H. Thaler, 1995. "Anomalies: Ultimatums, Dictators and Manners," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 9(2), pages 209-219, Spring.
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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Reciprocity; Maladaptation; Evolutionary Foundations; Human Altruism;

    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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