We often think of playing fair as an altruistic behavior. We're sacrificing our own potential gain to give others what they deserve. What could be more selfless than that? But new research from Northeastern University assistant professor of philosophy Rory Smead suggests another, darker origin behind the kindly act of fairness.
Smead studies spite. It's a conundrum that evolutionary biologists and behavioral philosophers have been mulling over for decades, and it's still relatively unclear why the seemingly pointless behavior sticks around. Technically speaking, spite is characterized as paying a cost to harm another. It yields virtually no positive outcome for the perpetrator. So why would evolutionwhich is supposed to weed out such behaviorslet spite stick around?
Smead's research, conducted in collaboration with Patrick Forber of Tufts University and recently published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B, sheds new light on this nefarious phenomenon.
A common means of studying social behaviors is through simplified models and games. One of these is called the ultimatum game, in which a one player proposes a division of resources the other player can either accept or reject. Suppose each interaction concerns the distribution of 10 one-dollar bills. The first player could suggest that he take $5 for himself and give the remaining $5 to the second player. That would be a fair play.
However, that first player could also go for an unfair option in which he keeps $9 for himself and gives just $1 to the second player. While the second player is worse off if he rejects the proposal (he's got ziltch in his pocket instead of $1), he almost always does so in real-world versions of the game: It's just not fair.
But when Smead and his colleagues decided to simulate this game mathematically to see how it would play out, they found that in fact the exact opposite happens. Fairne
|Contact: Emily Bhatti|