Explaining altruistic behavior in humans

Herbert Gintis, Samuel Bowles, Robert Boyd, Ernst Fehr

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

507 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Recent experimental research has revealed forms of human behavior involving interaction among unrelated individuals that have proven difficult to explain in terms of kin or reciprocal altruism. One such trait, strong reciprocity is a predisposition to cooperate with others and to punish those who violate the norms of cooperation, at personal cost, even when it is implausible to expect that these costs will be repaid. We present evidence supporting strong reciprocity as a schema for predicting and understanding altruism in humans. We show that under conditions plausibly characteristic of the early stages of human evolution, a small number of strong reciprocators could invade a population of self-regarding types, and strong reciprocity is an evolutionary stable strategy. Although most of the evidence we report is based on behavioral experiments, the same behaviors are regularly described in everyday life, for example, in wage setting by firms, tax compliance, and cooperation in the protection of local environmental public goods.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)153-172
Number of pages20
JournalEvolution and Human Behavior
Volume24
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - May 2003
Externally publishedYes

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altruistic behavior
altruism
reciprocity
human behavior
Altruism
taxes
compliance
interaction behavior
Costs and Cost Analysis
human evolution
Salaries and Fringe Benefits
Conservation of Natural Resources
costs
cost
wage
Compliance
everyday life
evidence
firm
experiment

Keywords

  • Altruism
  • Evolution of cooperation
  • Experimental games
  • Reciprocity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Development

Cite this

Explaining altruistic behavior in humans. / Gintis, Herbert; Bowles, Samuel; Boyd, Robert; Fehr, Ernst.

In: Evolution and Human Behavior, Vol. 24, No. 3, 05.2003, p. 153-172.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Gintis, Herbert ; Bowles, Samuel ; Boyd, Robert ; Fehr, Ernst. / Explaining altruistic behavior in humans. In: Evolution and Human Behavior. 2003 ; Vol. 24, No. 3. pp. 153-172.
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