Non-human Primate Studies Inform the Foundations of Fair and Just Human Institutions
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- Chen, J. & Houser, D. Soc Just Res (2012) 25: 277. doi:10.1007/s11211-012-0162-y
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Experiments with human participants have inspired new theories to capture human social, economic, and justice preferences, and shed new light on the foundation of institutions that promote and support large-scale exchange. Another source of valuable data for informing this agenda derives from studies with non-human primates. Here, we argue that primate studies of social preferences provide behavioral evidence supporting the role of the brain as an evolved social record-keeping device. Our argument follows Dickhaut et al. (Accounting Horizons 24:221–255, 2010), who pointed to record-keeping as critical in enabling large-scale trade. Here, we note that record-keeping also underlies justice judgments in both personal exchange and large-scale trade. The reason is that evaluating whether an allocation is just requires tracking not only benefits that accrue locally, but also benefits for distant others. Further, if record-keeping is an evolved trait (as Dickhaut et al. in Accounting Horizons 24:221–255, 2010 suggest), then it seems reasonable to expect it to be evidenced not only in humans, but also in non-human primates. Indeed, we argue that evidence from non-human primate research supports the Dickhaut hypothesis, thus supporting the role of justice in the emergence of fair and efficient economic exchange.