Original article:

Altruistic behavior and cooperation: The role of intrinsic expectation when reputational information is incomplete

Evolutionary Psychology 8(1): 37-48 Jacintha Ellers, Department of Animal Ecology, VU University Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, jacintha.ellers@falw.vu.nlNadia C. E. van der Pool, Department of Animal Ecology, VU University Amsterdam, Amsterdam, The Netherlands


Altruistic behavior is known to be conditional on the level of altruism of others. However, people often have no information, or incomplete information, about the altruistic reputation of others, for example when the reputation was obtained in a different social or economic context. As a consequence, they have to estimate the other's altruistic intentions. Using an economic game, we showed that without reputational information people have intrinsic expectations about the altruistic behavior of others, which largely explained their own altruistic behavior. This implies that when no information is available, intrinsic expectations can be as powerful a driver of altruistic behavior as actual knowledge about other people's reputation. Two strategies appeared to co-exist in our study population: participants who expected others to be altruistic and acted even more altruistically themselves, while other participants had low expected altruism scores and acted even less altruistically than they expected others to do. We also found evidence that generosity in economic games translates into benefits for other social contexts: a reputation of financial generosity increased the attractiveness of partners in a social cooperative game. This result implies that in situations with incomplete information, the fitness effects of indirect reciprocity are cumulative across different social contexts.


altruism, competitive altruism, conditional cooperation, Dictator Game, reputation building.

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Evolutionary Psychology - An open access peer-reviewed journal - ISSN 1474-7049 © Ian Pitchford and Robert M. Young; individual articles © the author(s)

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