Fairness may have darker evolutionary roots than expected, a new study suggests. Rather than evolving from the development of morality, fairness can evolve from the antisocial behaviour of spite, according to findings published today in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
“A lot of biologists these days think that fairness and the evolution of fairness is tied up with the evolution of morality. Fair behaviour is usually associated with altruism and co-operation,” says lead author Associate Professor Patrick Forber, a philosopher of science at Tufts University. “What we found was something strange. In one setting … if you introduce spite, and the conditions that favour spite, you actually get fairness.”
Forber and philosopher colleague Dr Rory Smead from Northeastern University used the Ultimatum Game, as an evolutionary model to study how fairness can arise in situations where spite thrives. In this game, Player 1 has some cash and offers either a fair split (around 50 per cent) or an unfair split to Player 2. If the split is rejected, then neither player gets any money. Player 2 either accepts or rejects the ultimatum.
“The idea here is that we are fair not because we are being co-operative and want to be nice to our fellow man,” he says. “We’re fair because we’re worried that our fellow man is a vicious spiteful bastard that might exploit us and this is the best way to defend against it.”