Egalitarian Motives in Humans

Nature, Vol. 446, pp. 794-796, April 12, 2007

11 Pages Posted: 20 Aug 2007

See all articles by Christopher T. Dawes

Christopher T. Dawes

University of California, San Diego (UCSD) - Department of Political Science

James H. Fowler

UC San Diego Division of Social Sciences; UC San Diego School of Medicine

Tim Johnson

Atkinson Graduate School of Management, Willamette University

Richard McElreath

University of California, Davis

Oleg Smirnov

State University of New York (SUNY) - Department of Political Science

Abstract

Participants in laboratory games are often willing to alter others' incomes at a cost to themselves and this behaviour has the effect of promoting cooperation. What motivates this action is unclear: punishment and reward aimed at promoting cooperation cannot be distinguished from attempts to produce equality. To understand costly taking and costly giving, we create an experimental game that isolates egalitarian motives. The results show that subjects reduce and augment others' incomes, at a personal cost, even when there is no cooperative behaviour to be reinforced. Furthermore, the size and frequency of income alterations are strongly influenced by inequality. Emotions towards top earners become increasingly negative as inequality increases, and those who express these emotions spend more to reduce above-average earners' incomes and to increase below-average earners' incomes. The results suggest that egalitarian motives affect income altering behaviours, and may thus be an important factor underlying the evolution of strong reciprocity and, hence, cooperation in humans.

Suggested Citation

Dawes, Christopher T. and Fowler, James H. and Johnson, Tim and McElreath, Richard and Smirnov, Oleg, Egalitarian Motives in Humans. Nature, Vol. 446, pp. 794-796, April 12, 2007. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1008029

Christopher T. Dawes

University of California, San Diego (UCSD) - Department of Political Science ( email )

9500 Gilman Drive
Code 0521
La Jolla, CA 92093-0521
United States

HOME PAGE: http://dss.ucsd.edu/~cdawes/

James H. Fowler (Contact Author)

UC San Diego Division of Social Sciences ( email )

9500 Gilman Drive
Code 0521
La Jolla, CA 92093-0521
United States

HOME PAGE: http://jhfowler.ucsd.edu

UC San Diego School of Medicine ( email )

9500 Gilman Drive
MC 0507
La Jolla, CA 92093
United States

HOME PAGE: http://jhfowler.ucsd.edu

Tim Johnson

Atkinson Graduate School of Management, Willamette University ( email )

900 State Street
Salem, OR 97301
United States

Richard McElreath

University of California, Davis

One Shields Avenue
Davis, CA 95616
United States

Oleg Smirnov

State University of New York (SUNY) - Department of Political Science ( email )

Stony Brook, 11794-4392
United States

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