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December 28th, 2009
Web-Exclusive Video: Human Spark = Spite?

Economic researchers are fond of a task they call the Ultimatum Game. They set up two volunteers who can work together to gain a reward – or not. One volunteer always has the option of not cooperating if the deal he is being offered doesn’t seem fair. In this video, scientist Keith Jensen (bio PDF) plays the game with Alan Alda and shows him the differences between how human beings and chimpanzees react to various offers. Keith’s results suggest that a sense of fairness – and a willingness to be spiteful! – might be an important aspect of the human spark.

Does Keith’s view of altruism and its vindictive flipside ring true to you?

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  • julie finton

    There are so many things wrong with this set up and the conclusions being drawn from it. Observations of chimps in the wild, in sanctuaries and in zoos have long indicated that chimps have a strong sense of fairness and justice, visible in how they respond to the acts of others and how a higher ranking individual will punish the “trouble maker” and/or comfort the “victim” in a skirmish between another two. However, they have an even stronger sense of social hierarchy, and I would imagine that an imprisoned lab chimp would feel sufficiently beaten down to take whatever raisins he could get.

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