Fairness and Other-regarding Preferences in Nonhuman Primates
Sarah F. Brosnan
Georgia State University
MORAL MARKETS: THE CRITICAL ROLE OF VALUES IN THE ECONOMY, Paul J. Zak, ed., Princeton University Press, 2007
Free Enterprise: Values in Action Conference Series, 2005-2006
Although the study of economic systems, such as free enterprise, is inherently entwined with human societies, studying the evolutionary roots of behaviors involved can tell us a great deal about ourselves. One of the values involved in free enterprise is a sense of fairness. A similar reaction, which I term the inequity response, shows striking similarities between human and nonhuman species. Capuchin monkeys and chimpanzees both respond negatively to distributional inequity, or getting less than another individual in their group. Moreover, chimpanzees show significant variation in response depending upon their social group, indicating that social dynamics have a strong influence over their reactions. A further study indicates that capuchin monkeys not only respond to distributional inequities, but are much less likely to cooperate with individuals who do not behave equitably than with those who do. There are differences as well. Primates do not tend to spontaneously share rewards with other individuals, indicating that while the inequity response includes a self-oriented perspective, it may not include a strong other-regarding component. From a comparative perspective, these results indicate areas which must be addressed when developing or implementing economic systems in human societies. Humans, like their primate relatives, will undoubtedly expect distributional equity, yet this may be somewhat modulated by both the society and the individual or group with whom the person is interacting. Moreover, like other primates, humans are likely to refuse to interact with individuals or groups who have behaved unfairly in the past, regardless of their current behavior. Economic systems are far more likely to succeed when these evolutionary factors are taken into consideration.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 28
Date posted: September 14, 2006
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