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Four levers of reciprocity across human societies: concepts, analysis and predictions


Lehmann, Laurent; Powers, Simon T; van Schaik, Carel P (2022). Four levers of reciprocity across human societies: concepts, analysis and predictions. Evolutionary Human Sciences, 4:e11.

Abstract

This paper surveys five human societal types – mobile foragers, horticulturalists, pre-state agriculturalists, state-based agriculturalists and liberal democracies – from the perspective of three core social problems faced by interacting individuals: coordination problems, social dilemmas and contest problems. We characterise the occurrence of these problems in the different societal types and enquire into the main force keeping societies together given the prevalence of these. To address this, we consider the social problems in light of the theory of repeated games, and delineate the role of intertemporal incentives in sustaining cooperative behaviour through the reciprocity principle. We analyse the population, economic and political structural features of the five societal types, and show that intertemporal incentives have been adapted to the changes in scope and scale of the core social problems as societies have grown in size. In all societies, reciprocity mechanisms appear to solve the social problems by enabling lifetime direct benefits to individuals for cooperation. Our analysis leads us to predict that as societies increase in complexity, they need more of the following four features to enable the scalability and adaptability of the reciprocity principle: nested grouping, decentralised enforcement and local information, centralised enforcement and coercive power, and formal rules.

Abstract

This paper surveys five human societal types – mobile foragers, horticulturalists, pre-state agriculturalists, state-based agriculturalists and liberal democracies – from the perspective of three core social problems faced by interacting individuals: coordination problems, social dilemmas and contest problems. We characterise the occurrence of these problems in the different societal types and enquire into the main force keeping societies together given the prevalence of these. To address this, we consider the social problems in light of the theory of repeated games, and delineate the role of intertemporal incentives in sustaining cooperative behaviour through the reciprocity principle. We analyse the population, economic and political structural features of the five societal types, and show that intertemporal incentives have been adapted to the changes in scope and scale of the core social problems as societies have grown in size. In all societies, reciprocity mechanisms appear to solve the social problems by enabling lifetime direct benefits to individuals for cooperation. Our analysis leads us to predict that as societies increase in complexity, they need more of the following four features to enable the scalability and adaptability of the reciprocity principle: nested grouping, decentralised enforcement and local information, centralised enforcement and coercive power, and formal rules.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:07 Faculty of Science > Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies
07 Faculty of Science > Department of Evolutionary Anthropology
Special Collections > Centers of Competence > Center for the Interdisciplinary Study of Language Evolution
Dewey Decimal Classification:300 Social sciences, sociology & anthropology
Scopus Subject Areas:Life Sciences > Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
Social Sciences & Humanities > Cultural Studies
Social Sciences & Humanities > Anthropology
Social Sciences & Humanities > Applied Psychology
Uncontrolled Keywords:Applied Psychology, Anthropology, Cultural Studies, Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
Language:English
Date:1 January 2022
Deposited On:06 Feb 2023 17:17
Last Modified:28 Jun 2024 01:39
Publisher:Cambridge University Press
ISSN:2513-843X
OA Status:Gold
Free access at:Publisher DOI. An embargo period may apply.
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1017/ehs.2022.7
  • Content: Published Version
  • Language: English
  • Licence: Creative Commons: Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)