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Published March 19, 2010 | Supplemental Material
Journal Article Open

Markets, Religion, Community Size, and the Evolution of Fairness and Punishment


Large-scale societies in which strangers regularly engage in mutually beneficial transactions are puzzling. The evolutionary mechanisms associated with kinship and reciprocity, which underpin much of primate sociality, do not readily extend to large unrelated groups. Theory suggests that the evolution of such societies may have required norms and institutions that sustain fairness in ephemeral exchanges. If that is true, then engagement in larger-scale institutions, such as markets and world religions, should be associated with greater fairness, and larger communities should punish unfairness more. Using three behavioral experiments administered across 15 diverse populations, we show that market integration (measured as the percentage of purchased calories) positively covaries with fairness while community size positively covaries with punishment. Participation in a world religion is associated with fairness, although not across all measures. These results suggest that modern prosociality is not solely the product of an innate psychology, but also reflects norms and institutions that have emerged over the course of human history.

Additional Information

© 2010 American Association for the Advancement of Science. Received 21 September 2009; accepted 22 January 2010. We especially thank the communities that participated in our research. We also thank the National Science Foundation, the MacArthur Norms and Preferences Network, the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology, and the Russell Sage Foundation for funding this project. Thanks also to the many audiences and readers who contributed to improving our efforts.

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August 19, 2023
October 20, 2023