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

39 Pages Posted: 3 Mar 2003

See all articles by Ernst Fehr

Ernst Fehr

University of Zurich - Department of Economics

Joe Henrich

University of British Columbia; Harvard University - Department of Human Evolutionary Biology

Date Written: February 2003

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 ethnographic 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.

JEL Classification: A13, C70, C91, C92

Suggested Citation

Fehr, Ernst and Henrich, Joseph, Is Strong Reciprocity a Maladaptation? On the Evolutionary Foundations of Human Altruism (February 2003). CESifo Working Paper Series No. 859; IZA Discussion Paper No. 712. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=382950 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.382950

Ernst Fehr (Contact Author)

University of Zurich - Department of Economics ( email )

Bl├╝mlisalpstrasse 10
Zuerich, 8006
Switzerland
+41 1 634 3709 (Phone)
+41 1 634 4907 (Fax)

Joseph Henrich

University of British Columbia ( email )

2053 Main Mall
Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z2
Canada

Harvard University - Department of Human Evolutionary Biology ( email )

11 Divinity Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

Register to save articles to
your library

Register

Paper statistics

Downloads
824
Abstract Views
4,518
rank
28,575
PlumX Metrics