Working paper

Uninvadable social behaviors and preferences in group-structured populations

Ingela Alger, Laurent Lehmann, and Jörgen W. Weibull


Humans have evolved in populations structured in groups that extended beyond the nuclear family. Individuals interacted with each other within these groups and there was limited migration and sometimes conáicts between these groups. Suppose that during this evolution, individuals transmitted their behaviors or preferences to their (genetic or cultural) o§spring, and that material outcomes resulting from the interaction determined which parents were more successful than others in producing (genetic or cultural) o§spring. Should one then expect pure material self-interest to prevail? Some degree of altruism, spite, inequity aversion or morality? By building on established models in population biology we analyze the role that di§erent aspects of population structureó such as group size, migration rates, probability of group conáicts, cultural loyalty towards parentsó play in shaping behaviors and preferences which, once established, cannot be displaced by any other preference. In particular, we establish that uninvadable preferences under limited migration between groups will consist of a materially self-interested, a moral, and an other-regarding component, and we show how the strength of each component depends on population structure.


Strategic interactions; Preference evolution; Evolution by natural selection; Cultural transmission; Pro-sociality; Altruism; Morality; Spite;

JEL codes

  • A12: Relation of Economics to Other Disciplines
  • A13: Relation of Economics to Social Values
  • B52: Institutional • Evolutionary
  • C73: Stochastic and Dynamic Games • Evolutionary Games • Repeated Games
  • D01: Microeconomic Behavior: Underlying Principles
  • D63: Equity, Justice, Inequality, and Other Normative Criteria and Measurement
  • D64: Altruism • Philanthropy
  • D91: Intertemporal Household Choice • Life Cycle Models and Saving

See also

Published in

IAST working paper, n. 18-73, February 2018