Monday, December 01, 2014

The usefulness of spite.

Angier reviews a number of studies suggesting that the evolution of human cooperation can be assisted by spite, a certain degree of "altruistic" punishment, when some individuals are willing to punish rule breakers even when the infraction does not directly affect them. From Forber and Smead:
The presence of apparently irrational fair play in the ultimatum game remains a focal point for studies in the evolution of social behaviour. We investigate the role of negative assortment in the evolution of fair play in the ultimatum game. Spite-social behaviour that inflicts harm with no direct benefit to the actor-can evolve when it is disproportionally directed at individuals playing different strategies. The introduction of negative assortment alters the dynamics in a way that increases the chance fairness evolves, but at a cost: spite also evolves. Fairness is usually linked to cooperation and prosocial behaviour, but this study shows that it may have evolutionary links to harmful antisocial behaviour.
And, from Marlowe et al.:
We analyse generosity, second-party ('spiteful') punishment (2PP), and third-party ('altruistic') punishment (3PP) in a cross-cultural experimental economics project. We show that smaller societies are less generous in the Dictator Game but no less prone to 2PP in the Ultimatum Game. We might assume people everywhere would be more willing to punish someone who hurt them directly (2PP) than someone who hurt an anonymous third person (3PP). While this is true of small societies, people in large societies are actually more likely to engage in 3PP than 2PP. Strong reciprocity, including generous offers and 3PP, exists mostly in large, complex societies that face numerous challenging collective action problems. We argue that 'spiteful' 2PP, motivated by the basic emotion of anger, is more universal than 3PP and sufficient to explain the origins of human cooperation.

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