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“Economic man” in cross-cultural perspective: Behavioral experiments in 15 small-scale societies

Henrich, Joseph and Boyd, Robert and Bowles, Samuel and Camerer, Colin and Fehr, Ernst and Gintis, Herbert and McElreath, Richard and Alvard, Michael and Barr, Abigail and Ensminger, Jean and Smith Henrich, Natalie and Hill, Kim and Gil-White, Francisco and Gurven, Michael and Marlowe, Frank W. and Patton, John Q. and Tracer, David (2005) “Economic man” in cross-cultural perspective: Behavioral experiments in 15 small-scale societies. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 28 (6). pp. 795-855. ISSN 0140-525X.

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Researchers from across the social sciences have found consistent deviations from the predictions of the canonical model of self-interest in hundreds of experiments from around the world. This research, however, cannot determine whether the uniformity results from universal patterns of human behavior or from the limited cultural variation available among the university students used in virtually all prior experimental work. To address this, we undertook a cross-cultural study of behavior in ultimatum, public goods, and dictator games in a range of small-scale societies exhibiting a wide variety of economic and cultural conditions. We found, first, that the canonical model – based on self-interest – fails in all of the societies studied. Second, our data reveal substantially more behavioral variability across social groups than has been found in previous research. Third, group-level differences in economic organization and the structure of social interactions explain a substantial portion of the behavioral variation across societies: the higher the degree of market integration and the higher the payoffs to cooperation in everyday life, the greater the level of prosociality expressed in experimental games. Fourth, the available individual-level economic and demographic variables do not consistently explain game behavior, either within or across groups. Fifth, in many cases experimental play appears to reflect the common interactional patterns of everyday life.

Item Type:Article
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Camerer, Colin0000-0003-4049-1871
Additional Information:Copyright © 2005 Cambridge University Press. "Reprinted with the permission of Cambridge University Press." Published Online 22 December 2005
Subject Keywords:altruism; cooperation; cross-cultural research; experimental economics; game theory; ultimatum game; public goods game; self-interest
Issue or Number:6
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:HENbbs05
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Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:2278
Deposited By: Archive Administrator
Deposited On:21 Mar 2006
Last Modified:12 Dec 2019 17:06

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