Evolution of equal division among unequal partners

Stéphane Debove, Nicolas Baumard and Jean-Baptiste André.

Evolution. 2015 Feb;69(2):561-9. doi: 10.1111/evo.12583. Epub 2015 Jan 19.


One of the hallmarks of human fairness is its insensitivity to power: although strong individuals are often in a position to coerce weak individuals, fairness requires them to share the benefits of cooperation equally. The existence of such egalitarianism is poorly explained by current evolutionary models. We present a model based on cooperation and partner choice that can account for the emergence of a psychological disposition toward fairness, whatever the balance of power between the cooperative partners. We model the evolution of the division of a benefit in an interaction similar to an ultimatum game, in a population made up of individuals of variable strength. The model shows that strong individuals will not receive any advantage from their strength, instead having to share the benefits of cooperation equally with weak individuals at the evolutionary equilibrium, a result that is robust to variations in population size and the proportion of weak individuals. We discuss how this model suggests an explanation for why egalitarian behaviors toward everyone, including the weak, should be more likely to evolve in humans than in any other species.

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How to cite:

Debove, S., Baumard, N. and André, J.-B. (2015), Evolution of equal division among unequal partners. Evolution, 69: 561–569. doi: 10.1111/evo.12583