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In-Group Altruism

October 17, 2006

Research with indigenous Papua New Guineans suggests that we have an innate preference for members of our own group.


Are we fair to foreigners? I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Research with tribes in Papua New Guinea suggests there’s a deep-seated preference for helping fellow citizens over foreigners. A Swiss team led by economist Ernst Fehr of the University of Zurich tested this with a game using money. One New Guinean could choose to financially punish another for not being fair to a third person. They found that the punishers tended to be harsher when the victims were members of their own tribes, meaning they were more protective of their fellow tribe members than of outsiders. Fehr says this tendency likely translates to modern societies.

ERNST FEHR (University of Zurich, Switzerland):
The same sentiments show up when you have judge and jury trials, when you are the boss of the workteam and you have to evaluate the effort and behavior of the workteam, and so on and so on.

And he says the bias could extend to race, religion, and gender. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.