A new study suggests that humans are the only primate species inclined towards non-reciprocal giving. Apart from its implications for the ongoing war for the future, I find this result very exciting for my personal/academic life. One of the questions that keeps drawing me to study cognitive neuroscience is the search for why humans do not always act according to the self-serving economic definition of ‘rationality.’ Knowing that such a close relative is different in this way provides an excellent opportunity for meaningful contrast.
I wonder if this is somehow related to the results of Glimcher and others that chimps don’t incorporate negative feedback into their prediction mechanisms to the same degree we do. Perhaps they can’t adequately model the potential negative consequences of helping a brother out, and so don’t bother. If that is the case, then what exactly are the negative consequences we model when we act altruistically? How can we quantify these? Why do some people seem to value them in greater absolute terms than others?
Once we discover the neural basis of this difference, can we leverage that knowledge to real-world applications? Tax policy? International relations? Just simply getting along?
An exciting time ahead…