The evolution of fairness: explaining variation in bargaining behaviour

Shakti Lamba, Ruth Mace


Conceptions of fairness vary across the world. Identifying the drivers of this variation is key to understanding the selection pressures and mechanisms that lead to the evolution of fairness in humans. Individuals' varying fairness preferences are widely assumed to represent cultural norms. However, this assumption has not previously been tested. Fairness norms are defined as culturally transmitted equilibria at which bargainers have coordinated expectations from each other. Hence, if fairness norms exist at the level of the ethno-linguistic group, we should observe two patterns. First, cultural conformism should maintain behavioural homogeneity within an ethno-linguistic group. Second, bargainers' expectations should be coordinated such that proposals and responses to proposals should covary. Here we show that neither of these patterns is observed across 21 populations of the same ethno-linguistic group, the Pahari Korwa of central India. Our findings suggest that what constitutes a fair division of resources can vary on smaller scales than that of the ethno-linguistic group. Individuals' local environments may play a central role in determining conceptions of fairness.

  • Received August 29, 2012.
  • Accepted October 18, 2012.
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