Human Nature

, Volume 24, Issue 4, pp 444–460 | Cite as

The Role of Rewards in Motivating Participation in Simple Warfare

  • Luke GlowackiEmail author
  • Richard W. Wrangham


In the absence of explicit punitive sanctions, why do individuals voluntarily participate in intergroup warfare when doing so incurs a mortality risk? Here we consider the motivation of individuals for participating in warfare. We hypothesize that in addition to other considerations, individuals are incentivized by the possibility of rewards. We test a prediction of this “cultural rewards war-risk hypothesis” with ethnographic literature on warfare in small-scale societies. We find that a greater number of benefits from warfare is associated with a higher rate of death from conflict. This provides preliminary support for the relationship between rewards and participation in warfare.


Cultural rewards war-risk hypothesis Warfare Status Hunter-gatherers 



We thank Ralph Montilio of Tozzer Library for his generous assistance in locating references. We thank Padmini Iyer and four anonymous reviewers for comments and suggestions.


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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Human Evolutionary BiologyHarvard University, Peabody MuseumCambridgeUSA

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