Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The games people play Send this entry to: Spurl Ma.gnolia Digg Newsvine Reddit

I purchased The Origin and Evolution of Cultures and Foundations of Human Sociality as a 1-2 theory + data survey of culture. Two things that have jumped out at me immediately:

1) In Foundations of Human Sociality the authors show that the variance in 'rational' behavior by universities students world wide (Western and non-Western) is very small. In contrast, in the 15 world wide cultures they surveyed there is an enormous variance in the modal outcomes. If man had a paleolithic mind, then it is very diverse indeed. The differences don't seem to track phylogeny well at all (that is, genetically close groups can behave very differently, and similarly to distant groups). Part of the answer seems to be that analogical reasoning plays a big role in how these peoples respond to these "games." Remember the whole schtick about how human universals are what matter, and they're hard-wired by the Stone Age EEA? That is a lot easier to assert when your study subjects are undergraduate college students apparently. On the other hand those barely out of the Stone Age seem to exhibit more behavorial plasticity.

2) In one paper there was a peculiar finding re: the Ultimatum Game, defined by wiki as:
...two parties interact anonymously and only once, so reciprocation is not an issue. The first player proposes how to divide a sum of money with the second party. If the second player rejects this division, neither gets anything. If the second accepts, the first gets her demand and the second gets the rest.

This experiment wasn't that anonymous. The researchers found that when tracking gender, women in mixed players pools tended to accept far lower offers from men than women. Men did not accept low offers from either gender. But, it turns out that on average women in mixed player experiments (that is, repeated plays with different individuals) had the highest overall take. Why? Because half the players were men and they tended to have a higher offer acceptance rate in those cases. The men tended to reject many offers when they felt they were too low no matter the context, though they did net the bigger offer when the giver gambled on their stubborn pride. I don't know what that says for human sociality, but one thing I have mooted on this blog is that males are high risk players, and women keep it safe. The Trivers-Willard Hypothesis is an extension of this insight when considering the nature of reproductive skew: female offspring are a sure bet, but male offspring are a bigger bet.

...more later.

Related: The games genes play.

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