The 81st Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2012)

The impact of reputation on resource allocation in humans


Department of Anthropology, Washington State University

Saturday 8:45-9:00, Parlors Add to calendar

In many gregarious species, including numerous primates, within-group competition for resources involves the cost physical aggression among (possibly multiple) parties; this cost can be decreased by dominance hierarchies (Maynard-Smith and Parker, 1976), the orders and significance of which tend to be apparent to most group members. In this specific sense, dominance rank in nonhuman primates may be validly analogous to ‘reputation’ in human primates. Like their nonhuman primate relatives, humans physically contest material and social resources within groups. But humans, to a greater and likely more complex degree, must rely on their reputations to obtain contested group resources. Humans increase and defend access to group resources, including food, mates, status, medicinal substances and practices, care in times of need, etc., by increasing and defending their reputations relative to competitors, including within-group competitors. As in other species, human reputations can involve fighting ability, but human reputations are usually based on a much broader range of behaviors and capabilities such as providing benefits to others, (e.g., reproductive benefits, food resources, knowledge, contribution to group well-being, etc.).

Using experimental methods among a sample of 120 adults, we tested the impact of age, sex, reputation, physical threat, social threat, and kinship on the allocation of valuable contested resources. Results showed that resource allocation was sensitive to each of these factors in the directions predicted by theories developed in primatology and behavioral ecology.

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