Working paper

Evolutionary Models of Preference Formation

Ingela Alger, and Jörgen W. Weibull


The literature on the evolution of preferences of individuals in strategic interactions is vast and diverse. We organize the discussion around the following question: Supposing that material outcomes drive evolutionary success, under what circumstances does evolution promote Homo oeconomicus, defined as material self-interest, and when does it instead lead to other preferences? The literature suggests that Homo oeconomicus is favored by evolution only when individuals' preferences are their private information and the population is large and well-mixed so that individuals with rare mutant preferences almost never get to interact with each other. If rare mutants instead interact more often (say, due to local dispersion), evolution instead favors a certain generalization of Homo oeconomicus including a Kantian concern. If individuals interact under complete information about preferences, evolution destabilizes Homo oeconomicus in virtually all games.

JEL codes

  • C73: Stochastic and Dynamic Games • Evolutionary Games • Repeated Games
  • D01: Microeconomic Behavior: Underlying Principles
  • D03: Behavioral Microeconomics • Underlying Principles

Replaced by

Ingela Alger, and Jörgen W. Weibull, Evolutionary Models of Preference Formation, Annual Review of Economics, vol. 11, August 2019, pp. 329–354.

See also

Published in

IAST working paper, n. 18-82, September 2018