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Researchers explore altruism's unexpected ally -- selfishness
Date:5/1/2008

riminal in jail, all law-abiding citizens benefit but you paid the cost. If someone else pays you to put the criminal in jail, this action costs those individuals something that other law-abiding citizens didn't have to pay. Economists call this the higher-order public goods problem. Rewards and punishments that enforce good behavior are themselves forms of good behavior that are vulnerable to subversion from within.

Eldakar and Wilson first began thinking about selfish punishment on the basis of a study on humans, which indeed showed that the individuals most likely to cheat were also most likely to punish other cheaters. Similar examples appear to exist in non-human species, including worker bees that prevent other workers from laying eggs while laying a few of their own.

Is selfish punishment really so hypocritical in moral terms" According to Eldakar and Wilson, it can be looked at another way - as a division of labor. Altruists pay the selfish punishers by allowing themselves to be exploited, while the selfish punishers return the favor with their second-order altruism. That way, no one needs to pay the double cost required of an altruist who also punishes others, says Eldakar. If so, then the best groups might be those that include a few devils along with the angels.


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Contact: Gail Glover
gglover@binghamton.edu
607-777-2174
Binghamton University
Source:Eurekalert

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