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The Evolution of Giving, Sharing, and Lotteries

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Daniel Nettle


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A core feature of human societies is that people often transfer resources to others. Such transfers can be governed by several different mechanisms, such as gift giving, communal sharing, or lottery-type arrangements. We present a simple model of the circumstances under which each of these three forms of transfer would be expected to evolve through direct fitness benefits. We show that in general, individuals should favor transferring some of their resources to others when there is a fitness payoff to having social partners and/or where there are costs to keeping control of resources. Our model thus integrates models of cooperation through interdependence with tolerated theft models of sharing. We also show, by extending the HAWK-DOVE model of animal conflict, that communal sharing can be an adaptive strategy where returns to consumption are diminishing and lottery-type arrangements can be adaptive where returns to consumption are increasing. We relate these findings to the observed diversity in human resource-transfer processes and preferences and discuss limitations of the model.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Nettle D, Panchanathan K, Rai TS, Fiske AP

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Current Anthropology

Year: 2011

Volume: 52

Issue: 5

Pages: 747-756

Print publication date: 01/10/2011

ISSN (print): 0011-3204

ISSN (electronic): 1537-5382

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


DOI: 10.1086/661521


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