The impact of distance on parochial altruism: An experimental investigation

27 Pages Posted: 2 Jun 2019 Last revised: 12 Nov 2020

Date Written: November 12, 2020


Parochial altruism – individual sacrifice to benefit the in-group and harm an out-group –undermines inter-group cooperation and is implicated in a plethora of politically-significant behaviors. We report experimental evidence about the impact of variation in social distance within the in-group together with variation in social distance between the in- and out-groups on parochial altruism in a setting in which inter-group conflict is made possible. We find that differential social distance has a systematic effect on individual choice. In particular, parochial altruism is stimulated when individuals’ distance to both their in- and out-group is high. A long-standing hypothesis about behavior in contexts of inter-group conflict is that low social distance facilitates collective action leading to greater cooperation and greater conflict. Our results suggest that the effects of high social distance in a homogenous population may create a potential additional pathway to group-based individual action.

Keywords: parochial altruism; distance; laboratory experiment; Inter-group Prisoner's Dilemma - Maximizing Difference; conflict; inter-group conflict.

JEL Classification: C91 D74 H4

Suggested Citation

Boulu-Reshef, Béatrice and Schulhofer-Wohl, Jonah, The impact of distance on parochial altruism: An experimental investigation (November 12, 2020). Available at SSRN: or

Béatrice Boulu-Reshef (Contact Author)

Université d'Orléans ( email )

Rue de Blois
Orléans, 45000


Jonah Schulhofer-Wohl

Leiden University ( email )


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