Human Nature

, Volume 9, Issue 1, pp 1–21

The evolution of magnanimity

When is it better to give than to receive?


Conspicuous consumption associated with status reinforcement behavior can be explained in terms of costly signaling, or strategic handicap theory, first articulated by Zahavi and later formalized by Grafen. A theory is introduced which suggests that the evolutionary raison d’être of status reinforcement behavior lies not only in its effects on lifetime reproductive success, but in its positive effects on the probability of survival through infrequent, unpredictable demographic bottlenecks. Under some circumstances, such “wasteful” displays may take the form of displays of altruistic behavior and generosity on the part of high status individuals, in that is signals the ability to bear the short-term costs of being generous or “cooperative,” while at the same time reinforcing the long-term benefits of higher status.

Key words

Conspicuous consumption Reproductive success Status reinforcement Strategic handicap principle 


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Copyright information

© Springer 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Human Evolutionary Ecology Program, Department of AnthropologyUniversity of New MexicoAlbuquerque

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