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Study suggest people act fairly due to spite, not altruism

Posted February 13, 2014

A study done by philosophers Patrick Forber of Tufts University and Rory Smead of Northwestern University, suggests fairness in societies evolves out of a fear of spite from others, rather than due to an increase in altruism. In their paper published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, the two describe a mathematical/computer model they built based on a well-known game developed to study economics called The Ultimate Game and how it showed that spite, not altruism appears to drive fairness.

Most people would like to think that they and other people are fair in their dealings with others because of some inherent goodness, i.e. some form of altruism. In this new study, Fober and Smead suggest that the real reason people are fair with one another is because they fear being the victim of a spiteful action.

Spite, the researchers note, is the opposite of altruism—it’s when people cause something negative to happen to someone else, at their own expense. And it too, they add is a part of fairness, or at least in its perception.

To come to their conclusions, the researchers built a math/computer model that simulates the Ultimate Game—players are given cash and told to give some to another player—who can than accept or reject the offer.

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