We’re nice to our families. From an evolutionary perspective, that makes sense. But what makes us deal fairly with strangers? One theory holds that the development of large societies necessitated the creation of fairness, through institutions such as markets and religion that extend fairness to a so-called ‘anonymous other.’
In a study published in the journal Science, anthropologists and economists around the world spent 15 years studying communities of 2,000 to 10,000 individuals with highly variable social systems.
The researchers used multiple techniques to test willingness to share and to punish someone who doesn’t play fairly. Players from subsistence communities with a local religion didn’t seem too concerned with fairness or with punishing unfair strangers. But players from larger communities with established markets and world religions were more willing to behave fairly and punish unfair behavior.
The authors contend that these findings support the idea that codified markets and religions helped establish fairness norms as societies grew. [See Joseph Henrich et al, http://bit.ly/csmTOJ] The researchers say that “the honing of these norms and institutions continues in modern societies.” Perhaps such honing will include the creation of the proposed US Consumer Protection Agency.
[The above text is an exact transcript of this podcast.]