Research

Article

The emergence of altruism as a social norm

Abstract

Expectations, exerting influence through social norms, are a very strong candidate to explain how complex societies function. In the Dictator game (DG), people expect generous behavior from others even if they cannot enforce any sharing of the pie. Here we assume that people donate following their expectations, and that they update their expectations after playing a DG by reinforcement learning to construct a model that explains the main experimental results in the DG. Full agreement with the experimental results is reached when some degree of mismatch between expectations and donations is added into the model. These results are robust against the presence of envious agents, but affected if we introduce selfish agents that do not update their expectations. Our results point to social norms being on the basis of the generous behavior observed in the DG and also to the wide applicability of reinforcement learning to explain many strategic interactions.

Keywords: altruism, expectations, reinforcement learning,