Human Nature

, Volume 18, Issue 2, pp 88–108 | Cite as

Engineering Human Cooperation

Does Involuntary Neural Activation Increase Public Goods Contributions?
  • Terence C. BurnhamEmail author
  • Brian Hare


In a laboratory experiment, we use a public goods game to examine the hypothesis that human subjects use an involuntary eye-detector mechanism for evaluating the level of privacy. Half of our subjects are “watched” by images of a robot presented on their computer screen. The robot—named Kismet and invented at MIT—is constructed from objects that are obviously not human with the exception of its eyes. In our experiment, Kismet produces a significant difference in behavior that is not consistent with existing economic models of preferences, either self- or other-regarding. Subjects who are “watched” by Kismet contribute 29% more to the public good than do subjects in the same setting without Kismet.


Altruism Proximate causation Public goods Reciprocity Tinbergen 



Brian Hare’s research is supported by a Sofja Kovalevskaja award received from The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research. In implementing and running the experiment, we benefited from the excellent work of the staff of the HBS experimental laboratory, including Steve Oliveira, Nick McKinney, Alyssa Knotts, Jill Hogue, and Toni Wegner. We appreciate the help and/or comments of Ernst Fehr, Urs Fishbacher, Simon Gächter, Kevin McCabe, Keith Murgnihan, Al Roth, and Lise Vesterlund. The paper was improved by comments from Steve Platek and two anonymous referees.


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© Springer Science & Business Media, LLC 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Program for Evolutionary DynamicsHarvard UniversityCambridgeUSA
  2. 2.Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary AnthropologyLeipzigGermany

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