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On some implications of evolutionary psychology for the study of preferences and institutions



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Journal of Economic Behavior Organization Vol 43 2000 91 99 On some implications of evolutionary psychology for the study of preferences and institutions Avner Ben Ner a Louis Putterman b a Industrial Relations Center University of Minnesota Minneapolis MN 55455 USA b Department of Economics Brown University Providence RI 02912 USA Received 8 April 1997 received in revised form 19 January 2000 accepted 9 February 2000 Abstract In many economic interactions for instance in firms the standard approximation of strict selfinterest is inadequate to modeling human behavior A scientific theory of preferences grounded in evolutionary psychological and biological theory can avoid resort to ad hoc assumptions Evolutionary theory is supported by a growing body of data including new results in experimental economics It holds that the evolved human nature includes an ability to solve social dilemma problems through reciprocity and punishment of cheaters Treating realized preferences as phenotypic expressions with both environmental and genetic causes will also allow economists to study the impact of institutions on preferences 2000 Elsevier Science B V All rights reserved JEL classification D00 C91 C72 Keywords Evolution Preferences Evolutionary psychology Altruism Reciprocity 1 Introduction Darwinism was once taken to imply that the process of biological competition can spare no sentimentality for unselfishness or indeed for sentiment itself The most ruthless self seeking and rational organisms will survive while weaker members of their species will fall by the wayside Darwinism and the economics of the century that followed The Origin of Species appeared to entail kindred social theories in which human moral pretensions were set aside and the natural competitiveness of the species claimed its full due We would like to thank Herbert Gintis Robert Wright and three anonymous referees and the editor for helpful comments on earlier drafts Corresponding author Tel 1 401 863 3836 fax



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