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Punishment of egoistic behavior is not rewarded
Date:11/14/2011

This release is available in German.

The heated debate surrounding the German "state Trojan" software for the online monitoring of telecommunication between citizens shows that the concealed observation of our private decisions provokes public disapproval. However, as a recent experimental study has revealed, observing and being observed are integral components of our social repertoire. Human beings show a preference for social partners whose altruistic behaviour they have been able to confirm for themselves. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology in Pln and the University of Cologne have discovered that people select future social partners on the basis of their cooperative behaviour and not according to whether they punish the egoism of others. This finding is surprising as it shows that people identify particularly altruistic partners in this way and could benefit from their behaviour. Consequently, people conceal uncooperative behaviour. However, it remains a mystery as to why people would like to conceal occasions when they punish others for their self-interest, despite the fact that they have no sanctions to fear.

Cooperative behaviour is generally associated with personal disadvantage. Scientists have therefore long been unable to explain why, despite this, altruism exists in nature. However, altruistic behaviour can be successful if organisms improve their reputation through unselfish behaviour and can benefit from it at a later stage: those who give receive; but those who refuse to lend support cannot expect help in an emergency. Solidarity is also the outcome of social evolution in humans. However, altruism can only enhance an individual's reputation and prevail if the corresponding behaviour is known to others.

Thus, people behave more cooperatively when they are observed. Accordingly, as soon as th
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Contact: Manfred Milinski
milinski@evolbio.mpg.de
49-452-276-3254
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
Source:Eurekalert  

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