John Ziker, a Boise State anthropology professor, is part of an interdisciplinary team that published an article in the March 18 issue of Science, the academic journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. This is the second article including contributions from Boise State faculty members to appear in the magazine in the last two weeks.
Science is considered one of the world’s most prominent journals, and this article marks the seventh time peer-reviewed contributions by Boise State faculty have been included in its pages.
The article, titled “Markets, religion, community size and the evolution of fairness and punishment,” summarizes new results of a project in which evolutionary game-theory experiments were used to examine the relationship between measures of fairness and punishment, and variables like community size, adherence to a world religion and market integration. It is the second paper from the 14-member team to be published in Science (the first was in June, 2006). Researchers hailed from institutions including University of British Columbia, California Institute of Technology, UC Davis, UCLA, UCSB, Oxford University and Florida State University.
Publication of the article comes just two weeks after the work of Boise Sate Geosciences Department faculty members Mark Schmitz and James Crowley, part of a team that wrote a paper on geochronology, was published in the journal.
The study shows that people living in the smallest communities with minimal market integration or world religion – absences that likely characterized all societies until about 10,000 years ago – display relatively little concern for fairness or punishing unfairness in transactions involving strangers or anonymous players in the experiment. In contrast, participants in the largest societies with the highest levels of market integration and participation in world religions show both a greater willingness to make fair offers and the most willingness to punish unfair offers in the experiments.
“This result challenges previous findings from numerous experiments conducted mostly with college students in Western societies that social norms arise directly from an evolved psychology that metaphorically applies kin and reciprocity-based heuristics to strangers,” said Ziker, whose years of work with indigenous Siberians laid the groundwork for conducting the experiments in a Siberian settlement. “It also means that the development of complex societies over the last 10 millennia is in large part dependent on norms for fairness and punishment that best facilitated exchange and cooperation in social spheres well beyond local networks of durable kin and reciprocity relationships.”
Another insight addressed in the article is that cooperation is difficult to maintain, especially when the scale of societies increases. And without cooperation, environments are degraded and social problems arise. This problem is particularly noted for public goods or common-pool resources. In a population without strong social norms for fairness and willingness to punish unfairness, environments are degraded – this is known as a “Tragedy of the Commons.”
The project, funded by the National Science Foundation, involved a series of controlled experiments in 15 societies on five continents. The team conducted behavioral experiments with 2,100 respondents from 15 societies, whose communities ranged in size from 20 to 10,000 people. These small-scale societies, from Africa, North and South America, Oceania, New Guinea, and Siberia, included hunter-gatherers, marine foragers, pastoralists, horticulturalists and wage laborers.
To read the full article in Science, go to www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/327/5972/1480.