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.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Price excludes VAT (USA)
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Almagor, U. (1979). Raiders and elders: A confrontation of generations among the Dassanetch. In K. Fukui, D. Turton, & H. Kokuritsu Minzokugaku (Eds.), Warfare among East African herders: Papers presented at the first international symposium, National Museum of Ethnology, Osaka, September, 1977 (pp. 119–145). Suita, Osaka: National Museum of Ethnology.
Alvarsson, J.-A. (1989). Starvation and peace or food and war? (Uppsala Research Reports in Cultural Anthropology). Uppsala, Sweden: Dept. of Cultural Anthroplogy at the University of Uppsala.
Beckerman, S., Erickson, P. I., Yost, J., Regalado, J., Jaramillo, L., Sparks, C., et al. (2009). Life histories, blood revenge, and reproductive success among the Waorani of Ecuador. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 106(20), 8134–8139.
Bishop, C. A., & Lytwyn, V. P. (2007). “Barbarism and ardour from the tenderst years”: Cree-Inuit warfare in the Hudson Bay region. In R. J. Chacon & R. G. Mendoza (Eds.), North American indigenous warfare and ritual violence (pp. 30–57). Tucson: University of Arizona Press.
Boehm, C. (2011). Retaliatory violence in human prehistory. British Journal of Criminology, 51(3), 518–534.
Boster, J. S., Yost, J., & Peek, C. (2004). Rage, revenge, and religion: honest signaling of aggression and nonaggression in Waorani coalitional violence. Ethos, 31(4), 471–494.
Bowles, S. (2009). Did warfare among ancestral hunter-gatherers affect the evolution of human social behaviors? Science, 324(5932), 1293–1298.
Boyd, R., & Richerson, P. J. (1992). Punishment allows the evolution of cooperation (or anything else) in sizable groups. Ethology and Sociobiology, 13(3), 171–195.
Boyd, R., Gintis, H., & Bowles, S. (2010). Coordinated punishment of defectors sustains cooperation and can proliferate when rare. Science, 328(5978), 617–620.
Burch, E. S. J. (2007). Traditional native warfare in western Alaska. In R. J. Chacon & R. G. Mendoza (Eds.), North American indigenous warfare and ritual violence (pp. 11–29). Tucson: University of Arizona Press.
Chagnon, N. (1988). Life histories, blood revenge, and warfare in a tribal population. Science, 239(4843), 985–992.
Chagnon, N. (1990). Reproductive and somatic conflicts of interest in the genesis of violence and warfare among tribesmen. In J. Haas (Ed.), The anthropology of war (pp. 77–104). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Choi, J.-K., & Bowles, S. (2007). The coevolution of parochial altruism and war. Science, 318(5850), 636–640.
Cooper, J. M. (1917). Analytical and critical bibliography of the tribes of Tierra del Fuego and adjacent territory (Smithsonian Institution. Bureau of American Ethnology. Bulletin 63). Washington DC: US Goverment Printing Office.
Cronk, L. (1991). Wealth, status, and reproductive success among the Mukogodo of Kenya. American Anthropologist, 93(2), 345–360.
Darwin, C. (2006). The descent of man and selection in relation to sex (originally published in 1871). In E. O. Wilson (Ed.), From so simple a beginning: The four great books of Charles Darwin. New York: W.W. Norton.
Dentan, R. (1968). The Semai: A nonviolent people of Malaya. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston.
Dozier, E. P. (1967). The Kalinga of northern Luzon, Phillippines. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Wilson.
Dunbar, R. I. M. (1991). On sociobiological theory and the Cheyenne case. Current Anthropology, 32(2), 169–173.
Durham, W. H. (1976). Resource competition and human aggression, Part I: a review of primitive war. Quarterly Review of Biology, 51(3), 385–415.
Durrant, R. (2011). Collective violence: an evolutionary perspective. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 16(5), 428–436.
Early, J. D., & Peters, J. F. (1990). The population dynamics of the Mucajai Yanomama. San Diego: Academic Press.
Eaton, D. (2008). The business of peace: raiding and peace work along the Kenya-Uganda border (Part 1). African Affairs, 107(427), 89–110.
Ember, C. R., & Ember, M. (1992). Resource unpredictability, mistrust, and war: a cross-cultural study. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 36(2), 242–262.
Ember, C. R., & Ember, M. (1994). War, socialization, and interpersonal violence: a cross-cultural study. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 38(4), 620–646.
Ermer, E., Cosmides, L., & Tooby, J. (2008). Relative status regulates risky decision making about resources in men: evidence for the co-evolution of motivation and cognition. Evolution and Human Behavior, 29(2), 106–118.
Ewers, J. C. (1980). The horse in Blackfoot Indian culture, with comparative material from other Western tribes (Classics of Smithsonian Anthropology). Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press.
Fleisher, M. L., & Holloway, G. J. (2004). The problem with boys: Bridewealth accumulation, sibling gender, and the propensity to participate in cattle raiding among the Kuria of Tanzania. Current Anthropology, 45(2), 284–288.
Fortune, R. F. (1939). Arapesh warfare. American Anthropologist, (n.s.), 41(1), 22–41.
Gat, A. (1999). The pattern of fighting in simple, small-scale prestate soceities. Journal of Anthropological Research, 55(4), 563–583.
Gat, A. (2000). The Human motivational complex: evolutionary theory and the causes of hunter-gatherer fighting, Part I: Primary somatic and reproductive causes. Anthropological Quarterly, 73(1), 20–34.
Girke, F. (2008). The Kara-Nyangatom war of 2006–07: Dynamics of escalating violence in the tribal zone. In E.-M. Bruchaus & M. Sommer (Eds.), Hotspot Horn of Africa revisited: Approaches to make sense of conflict (pp. 192–207). Berlin: LIT Verlag.
Graburn, N. H. H. (1969). Eskimos without igloos: Social and economic development in Sugluk. Boston: Little, Brown.
Hadlock, W. S. (1947). War among the Northeastern Woodland Indians. American Anthropologist, 49(2), 204–221.
Hallpike, C. R. (1977). Bloodshed and vengeance in the Papuan mountains: The generation of conflict in Tauade society. Oxford: Clarendon.
Hart, C. W. M., & Pilling, A. R. (1979). The Tiwi of North Australia. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
Heider, K. G. (1997). Grand Valley Dani: Peaceful warriors. Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace College Publishers.
Heider, K. G. (2006). The Dugum Dani: A Papuan culture in the highlands of West New Guinea. New Brunswick, NJ: Aldine/Transaction.
Hendrickson, D., Mearns, R., & Armon, J. (1996). Livestock raiding among the pastoral Turkana of Kenya: redistribution, predation, and the links to famine. IDS Bulletin, 27(3), 17–30.
Hiatt, L. R. (1965). Kinship and conflict: A study of an aboriginal community in northern Arnhem Land. Canberra: Australian National University.
Hickerson, H. (1988). The Chippewa and their neighbors: A study in ethnohistory. Prospect Heights, Il: Waveland Press.
Hill, J. (1984). Prestige and reproductive success in man. Ethology and Sociobiology, 5(2), 77–95.
Hopcroft, R. L. (2006). Sex, status, and reproductive success in the contemporary United States. Evolution and Human Behavior, 27(2), 104–120.
Jandial, R., Hughes, S. A., Aryan, H. E., Marshall, L. F., & Levy Michael, L. (2004). The science of shrinking human heads: tribal warfare and revenge among the South American Jivaro-Shuar. Neurosurgery, 55(5), 1215–1221.
Keeley, L. H. (1996). War before civilization. New York: Oxford University Press.
Kelly, R. C. (2000). Warless societies and the origin of war. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Kroeber, A. L. (1971). Yurok national character. In R. F. Heizer & M. A. Whipple (Eds.), The California Indians: A source book (pp. 385–423). Berkeley: University of California Press.
Langergraber, K., Schubert, G., Rowney, C., Wrangham, R., Zommers, Z., & Vigilant, L. (2011). Genetic differentiation and the evolution of cooperation in chimpanzees and humans. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 278(1717), 2546–2552.
LeBlanc, S. A., & Register, K. E. (2003). Constant battles: The myth of the peaceful, noble savage (1st ed.). New York: St. Martin’s Press.
Lee, W. E. (2007). Peace chiefs and blood revenge: Patterns of restraint in Native American warfare, 1500–1800. Journal of Military History, 71(3), 701–741.
Lehmann, L., & Feldman, M. W. (2008). War and the evolution of belligerence and bravery. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 275(1653), 2877–2885.
Mann, E. H. (1975). Aboriginal inhabitants of the Andaman Islands. Delhi: Sanskaran Prakashak.
Mann, E. H. (2001). The aboriginal inhabitants of the Andaman Islands. New Delhi: Mittal.
Manson, J. H., & Wrangham, R. W. (1991). Intergroup aggression in chimpanzees and humans. Current Anthropology, 32(4), 369–390.
Maschner, H., & Reedy-Maschner, K. L. (1998). Raid, retreat, defend (repeat): the archaeology and ethnohistory of warfare on the north Pacific Rim. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, 17, 19–51.
Mathew, S., & Boyd, R. (2011). Punishment sustains large-scale cooperation in prestate warfare. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 108(28), 11375–11380.
Meggitt, M. J. (1977). Blood is their argument: Warfare among the Mae Enga tribesmen of the New Guinea highlands. Palo Alto, Calif.: Mayfield.
Morren, G. E. B. J. (1984). Warfare on the Highland Fringe of New Guinea: The case of the Mountain Ok. In R. B. Ferguson (Ed.), Warfare, culture, and environment (pp. 169–207, Studies in anthropology). Orlando, Fla.: Academic Press.
Murphy, R. F. (1957). Intergroup hostility and social cohesion. American Anthropologist, 59(6), 1018–1035.
Netting, R. (1973). Fighting, forest, and the fly: some demographic regulators among the Kofyar. Journal of Anthropological Research, 29(3), 164–179.
Patton, J. Q. (1996). Thoughtful warriors: Status, warriorship, and alliance in the Ecuadorian Amazon. PhD dissertation, University of California, Santa Barbara.
Patton, J. Q. (2000). Reciprocal altruism and warfare: A case from the Ecuadorian Amazon. In L. Cronk, N. Chagnon, & W. Irons (Eds.), Adaptation and human behavior: An anthropological perspective. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.
Peers, L. (1994). The Ojibwa of western Canada, 1780–1870. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press.
Pflanz-Cook, S., & Cook, E. (1979). Manga pacification. In M. Rodman & M. Cooper (Eds.), The pacification of Melanesia (pp. 179–198). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Ploeg, A. (1979). The establishment of the Pax Neerlandica in the Bokondini area. In M. Rodman & J. M. Cooper (Eds.), The pacification of Melanesia (pp. 161–177). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Ray, V. (1963). Primitive pragmatists: The Modoc Indians of northern California. Seattle: University of Washington.
Robbins, S. (1982). Auyana: Those who held onto home (Anthropological Studies in the Eastern Highlands of New Guinea; v. 6). Seattle: University of Washington Press.
Sagawa, T. (2010). Automatic rifles and social order amongst the Daasanach of conflict-ridden East Africa. Nomadic Peoples, 14(1), 87–109.
Skinner, A. (1911). War customs of the Menomini Indians. American Anthropologist, 13(2), 299–312.
Slobodin, R. (1960). Eastern Kutchin warfare. Anthropologica, (n.s.), 2(1), 76–94.
Smirnov, O., Arrow, H., Kennett, D., & Orbell, J. (2007). Ancestral war and the evolutionary origins of “heroism.” Journal of Politics, 69(4), 927–940.
Smith, M. W. (1938). The war complex of the Plains Indians. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 78(3), 425–464.
Stewart, K. (1971). Mohave warfare. In R. F. Heizer & M. A. Whipple (Eds.), The California Indians: A source book (pp. 431–444). Berkeley: University of California Press.
Turney-High, H. H. (1991). Primitive war: Its practices and concepts (2nd ed.). Columbia: University of South Carolina Press.
Turton, D. (1979). War, peace, and Mursi identity. In K. Fukui, D. Turton, & H. Kokuritsu Minzokugaku (Eds.), Warfare among East African herders (pp. 179–210, Senri ethnological studies 3). Suita, Osaka: National Museum of Ethnology.
von Rueden, C., Gurven, M., & Kaplan, H. (2008). The multiple dimensions of male social status in an Amazonian society. Evolution and Human Behavior, 29(6), 402–415.
von Rueden, C., Gurven, M., & Kaplan, H. (2011). Why do men seek status? Fitness payoffs to dominance and prestige. Proceedings of the Royal Society B-Biological Sciences, 278, 223–2232.
Walker, R. S., & Bailey, D. H. (2013). Body counts in lowland South American violence. Evolution and Human Behavior, 34(1), 29–34.
Wang, X. T., Kruger, D. J., & Wilke, A. (2009). Life history variables and risk-taking propensity. Evolution and Human Behavior, 30(2), 77–84.
Warner, W. L. (1931). Murngin warfare. Oceania, 1(4), 457–494.
White, G. (1979). War, peace, and piety in Santa Isabel, Solomon Islands. In M. Rodman, & M. Cooper (Eds.), The Pacification of Melanesia (pp. 109–139, ASAO monograph ; no. 7). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Wiessner, P. (2006). From spears to M-16s: testing the imbalance of power hypothesis among the Enga. Journal of Anthropological Research, 62, 165–191.
Wilson, M., & Daly, M. (1985). Competitiveness, risk-taking, and violence: the young male syndrome. Ethology and Sociobiology, 6(1), 59–73.
Witsenburg, K., & Adano, W. R. (2009). Of rains and raids: violent livestock raiding in northern Kenya. Civil Wars, 11(4), 514–538.
Wrangham, R., & Glowacki, L. (2012). Intergroup aggression in chimpanzees and war in nomadic hunter-gatherers. Human Nature, 23(1), 5–29.
Wrangham, R., & Peterson, D. (1996). Demonic males: Apes and the origins of human violence. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Wrangham, R., Wilson, M. L., & Muller, M. N. (2006). Comparative rates of violence in chimpanzees and humans. Primates, 47(1), 14–26.
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.
About this article
Cite this article
Glowacki, L., Wrangham, R.W. The Role of Rewards in Motivating Participation in Simple Warfare. Hum Nat 24, 444–460 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12110-013-9178-8