The Evolution of Strong Reciprocity: Cooperation in Heterogeneous Populations

University of Siena Economics Working Paper No. 402

27 Pages Posted: 5 Jan 2004

See all articles by Samuel Bowles

Samuel Bowles

Santa Fe Institute; University of Massachusetts

Herbert Gintis

Santa Fe Institute; Central European University

Date Written: September 2003

Abstract

How do human groups maintain a high level of cooperation despite a low level of genetic relatedness among group members? We suggest that many humans have a predisposition to punish those who violate group-beneficial norms, even when this imposes a fitness cost on the punisher. Such altruistic punishment is widely observed to sustain high levels of cooperation in behavioral experiments and in natural settings. We offer a model of cooperation and punishment that we call strong reciprocity: where members of a group benefit from mutual adherence to a social norm, strong reciprocators obey the norm and punish its violators, even though as a result they receive lower payoffs than other group members, such as selfish agents who violate the norm and do not punish, and pure cooperators who adhere to the norm but free-ride by never punishing. Our agent-based simulations show that, under assumptions approximating likely human environments over the 100,000 years prior to the domestication of animals and plants, the proliferation of strong reciprocators when initially rare is highly likely, and that substantial frequencies of all three behavioral types can be sustained in a population. As a result, high levels of cooperation are sustained. Our results do not require that group members be related or that group extinctions occur.

Keywords: agent-based models, evolutionary games, cooperation, reciprocity, sociobiology

JEL Classification: C15, C72, H41, Z13

Suggested Citation

Bowles, Samuel and Gintis, Herbert, The Evolution of Strong Reciprocity: Cooperation in Heterogeneous Populations (September 2003). University of Siena Economics Working Paper No. 402. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=480761 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.480761

Samuel Bowles

Santa Fe Institute ( email )

1399 Hyde Park Rd
Santa Fe, NM 87501
United States
505-984-8800 (Phone)
505-982-0565 (Fax)

HOME PAGE: http://www.santafe.edu

University of Massachusetts ( email )

Amherst, MA 01002
United States
413-545-2590 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www-unix.oit.umass.edu/~bowles/

Herbert Gintis (Contact Author)

Santa Fe Institute ( email )

1399 Hyde Park Road
Santa Fe, NM 87501
United States

Central European University

Nador utca 9
Budapest, H-1051
Hungary
413-586-7756 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www-unix.oit.umass.edu/~gintis

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