The nature of human altruism

Responders’ acceptance thresholds in the ultimatum game with and without reputation opportunities.

The nature of human altruism
Nature 425, 785-791 (23 October 2003)
Ernst Fehr & Urs Fischbacher

Some of the most fundamental questions concerning our evolutionary origins, our social relations, and the organization of society are centred around issues of altruism and selfishness.
Experimental evidence indicates that human altruism is a powerful force and is unique in the animal world.
However, there is much individual heterogeneity and the interaction between altruists and selfish individuals is vital to human cooperation.
Depending on the environment, a minority of altruists can force a majority of selfish individuals to cooperate or, conversely, a few egoists can induce a large number of altruists to defect.

Current gene-based evolutionary theories cannot explain important patterns of human altruism, pointing towards the importance of both theories of cultural evolution as well as gene–culture co-evolution.