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Author Notes:

Corresponding author. sarah.brosnan@gmail.com.


Research Funding:

S.F.B. was funded by NSF CAREER grant SES 0847351 and NSF SES 1123897.


  • Animals
  • Biological Evolution
  • Cooperative Behavior
  • Hominidae
  • Humans
  • Phylogeny
  • Reward
  • Social Discrimination
  • Social Justice

Evolution of responses to (un)fairness


Journal Title:



Volume 346, Number 6207


, Pages 1251776-1251776

Type of Work:

Article | Post-print: After Peer Review


The human sense of fairness is an evolutionary puzzle. To study this, we can look to other species, in which this can be translated empirically into responses to reward distribution. Passive and active protest against receiving less than a partner for the same task is widespread in species that cooperate outside kinship and mating bonds. There is less evidence that nonhuman species seek to equalize outcomes to their own detriment, yet the latter has been documented in our closest relatives, the apes. This reaction probably reflects an attempt to forestall partner dissatisfaction with obtained outcomes and its negative impact on future cooperation.We hypothesize that it is the evolution of this response that allowed the development of a complete sense of fairness in humans, which aims not at equality for its own sake but for the sake of continued cooperation.

Copyright information:

© 2014, American Association for the Advancement of Science

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