Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Fairness in your genes?

I recently came across an economist article that pointed to me three new studies regarding fairness, patience and their genetic and evolutionary footprints.

From one of the studies, conducted by Wallace it al, a counterintuitive result is obtained- that a sense of fairness (as measured by propensity to share and reject low offers in the ultimatum game) is very much heritable with Monozygotic twins showing a positive correlation between their propensities to respond in the ultimatum game as compared to Dizygotic twins, who show no such correlation. This seems to strongly support the view that our sense of Altruism (dependent on our willingness to punish free-loaders) and fairness is genetic to a large extent. with the evolutionary explanations of Altruism depending heavily on the punishment arguments, it is not so surprising to find that a sense of fairness is indeed genetic in nature; but for many culture enthusiasts, this would come as a blow to their view that Altruism did not evolve, but is a product of uniquely human endeavor called culture.

Another article looks at the sense of fairness itself , again using the ultimatum game, and compares between humans and chimps. while it is well-know that humans have a snese of fairness and thus make equitable offers and reject low offers, no data on chimps was available till now. It seems Chimps are more rational and unemotional than humans!

To find out if chimpanzees share this sense of fairness, Keith Jensen and his colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, in Leipzig, designed a way for chimps to play the ultimatum game. Their version started with a pair of trays far from the players' cages. Each tray had ten raisins divided in different ways between two pots—say eight and two, or five and five. One chimp was allotted the role of proposer. He could choose one of the trays, pulling it by way of a rope just halfway to the cage. The other, the responder, could then choose to pull on a rod, bringing the tray close enough for both to get the raisins, one pot for each. If the responder chose not to pull the tray closer within a minute, the offer was considered rejected, and the game concluded.

The result, which Dr Jensen reports in Science, is that chimps are simply rational maximisers—Pan economicus, if you like. Though proposers consistently chose the highest possible number of raisins for themselves, responders rarely rejected even the stingiest offers.

I would like to see the same replicated with bonobos. Do they too lack a sense of fairness and whatever co-operation has been observed in them simply a result of free-sex-trade?

The third article actually looked at difference between patience and fairness in chimps and humans and gain came to a very counter-intuitive results. Chimps can be more patient than humans and delay gratification at more occasions than humans. Clearly their sense of prospection is better developed than Humans (which I doubt) , or they are unemotional and hence lack the normal human dread of waiting for a result of something (even positive). In any case some really important results and papers.

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1 comment:

Amy Carlson said...

Thanks for the link to heredity and the "fairness instinct." I find the idea that there is a genetic component to the need for fairness to be quite compelling.