Rawlsian altruism with perfect discrimination leads to social efficiency

Recent studies draw attention on the highly specialized capacity of human beings in recognizing altruists versus cheaters in social interactions. These results hint at the existence of specialized abilities that support discriminating behavior in strategic interactions. In this paper, we explore the implications of discriminating behavior in the study of the indirect evolutionary selection of selfish versus altruistic motivations in the context of generic 2×2 base games, and in particular for coordination and cooperation scenarios.
We find that inequality averse (Rawlsian) altruism can enforce under rathergeneral conditions socially optimal outcomes including cases where selfishness cannot, such as in prisoner’s dilemmas. Inequality seeking (Nietzschian) altruism in no case improves upon Rawlsian altruism in terms of social optimality of outcomes, and often does worse. In the cooperation scenario in particular, Nietzschean altruism never manages to implement the cooperative outcome. Under perfect discrimination, moreover, inequality averse (Rawlsian) altruism often evolves at the expense of selfishness. These results suggest that the development of sophisticated discrimination abilities may be strongly adaptive in supporting fairness-oriented forms of prosociality in humans in the context of social dilemmas and coordination problems.

Article by Domenico Menicucci, Pier Luigi Sacco
Published in The Journal of Mathematical Sociology, DOI:10.1080/0022250X.2015.1118098

From the Conclusions (excerpt)
(…) What we show here is that, without invoking group selection or norms of reciprocity, cooperation can emerge as a socially stable outcome if supported by a suitable combination of altruism, egalitarianism and perfect discrimination. All three aspects have gamed relevance in the literature, but none of them seems to make a difference on its own, as far as stable cooperation is concerned. Their combination, however, turns out to be effective.
Altruism gives relevance to the social outcome, egalitarianism strikes a fair balance between the individual and the social drive, and perfect discrimination prevents exploitation. An interesting avenue for future research is to investigate to what extent these aspects tend to co-evolve, and under what conditions, and whether such co-evolution is robust with respect to imperfections in one or more of them.(…).

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