International Review of Economics

, Volume 55, Issue 1, pp 77-89

First online:

Which norms are strong reciprocators supposed to enforce? Not all norms are psychologically the same

  • Laurence FiddickAffiliated withDepartment of Psychology (SASS), James Cook University Email author 

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Gintis’ (2000) analysis of strong reciprocity in terms of group survival leads to the conclusion that any norm, be it cooperative or prudential, that potentially enhances group survival will be enforced by a significant subset of individuals (strong reciprocators) who enforce norms even at their own individual expense. Gintis’ assumption that the human mind is an initially structureless receptacle for cultural norms further reinforces this view. In contrast, I argue that humans possess a natural domain-specific competence for social cooperation that is distinct from our prudential competence in dealing with potential hazards. I review a range of psychological evidence including multidimensional scaling studies, studies of emotional reactions, reasoning, functional MRI and judgments about punishment suggesting that not all norms are psychologically equivalent, with only a subset of norm violations eliciting punitive sentiments.


Norms Domain-specificity Modularity Strong reciprocity Evolutionary psychology

JEL Classification

D64 D80 Y80