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

By Ernst Fehr and Joseph Henrich

Abstract

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 historical 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. 1 This paper is part of a research project on strong reciprocity financed by the Network on Economic Environments and the Evolution of Individual Preferences and Social Norms of the MacArthur Foundation. Fehr and Henrich In recent years a large body of evidence has emerged from laboratory experiments indicating that a substantial fraction of people willingly repay gifts and punish the violation of cooperation and fairness norms, even in anonymous one-shot encounters with genetically unrelated strangers (see

Publisher: The MIT Press
Year: 2003
OAI identifier: oai:CiteSeerX.psu:10.1.1.163.1779
Provided by: CiteSeerX
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