Free market, religions fostered fair play in society: Study

Last Updated: Monday, March 22, 2010 - 12:14

Toronto: Free market and religions have played a huge role in the evolution of trust, fair play and respect for others in human societies, says a new Canadian study.

Anthropologist Joe Henrich of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, who led the study which was published this week in the journal Science, called current human societies `kinder and gentler` thanks to the free market and religions.

Human societies have learned fairness through norms associated with market participation and world religions, and not because of some ingrained instinct for cooperation in small groups, he said.

"Our results contradict previous theories that humans learned to treat strangers fairly by transferring behaviour and norms developed in their actions and attitudes toward family and kin,`` said Henrich who led a 14-member team that took 15 years to complete the study.

The team, which included anthropologists and economists, conducted behavioural experiments with 2,100 people from 15 societies - ranging in numbers from 20 to 10,000 members.

The small societies, from Africa, North and South America, Oceania, New Guinea, and Asia, included hunter-gatherers, marine foragers, pastoralists, horticulturalists, and wage labourers, according to a university statement.

"Our findings suggest that the evolution of societal complexity, especially as it has occurred over the last 10 millennia, involved the selective spread of those norms and institutions that best facilitated successful exchange and interaction in socioeconomic spheres well beyond local networks of durable kin and reciprocity-based relationships,`` Henrich said.

Using experiments that involved games by participants with real money, the study measured participants` motivations for fairness and willingness to punish unfairness in dealing a stranger.

The Canadian researcher said their findings showed that people living in small communities - from Tanzania and Kenya to Amazonia and Oceania - lacking market integration or a religion displayed very little concern with fairness or punishing unfairness.

On the other hand, the largest societies with a free market and participation in religion showed fairness and willingness to punish unfair offers.

IANS



First Published: Monday, March 22, 2010 - 12:14

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