, Volume 14, Issue 2, pp 191-195

Pro-community altruism and social status in a Shuar village

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Reciprocity theory (RT) and costly signaling theory (CST) provide different explanations for the high status of pro-community altruists: RT proposes that altruists are positively and negatively sanctioned by others, whereas CST proposes that altruists are attractive to others. Only RT, however, is beset by first- and higher-order free rider problems, which must be solved in order for RT to explain status allocations. In this paper, several solutions to RT’s free rider problems are proposed, and data about status allocations to Ecuadorian Shuar pro-community altruists are analyzed in light of RT and CST. These data confirm that perceived pro-community altruists are indeed high status and suggest that (1) community residents skillfully monitor the altruism of coresidents, (2) residents who engage in opportunities to broadcast desirable qualities are high status only to the extent that they are considered altruistic, and (3) individuals who sanction coresidents based on coresidents’ contributions to the community are themselves relatively high status. To a greater extent than CST, RT straightforwardly predicts all of these results.

Michael Price has a B.A. in psychology from Duke University and is a Ph.D. candidate in biosocial anthropology at UC Santa Barbara and an affiliate of the UCSB Center for Evolutionary Psychology. His research, which focuses on the human psychological adaptations that enable collective action participation, has been conducted among Venezuelan Yanomamö, Ecuadorian Shuar, and California undergraduates.