Egalitarian Motives in Humans
Nature, Vol. 446, pp. 794-796, April 12, 2007
11 Pages Posted: 20 Aug 2007
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.
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