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Evol Hum Behav. 2012 Jul 1;33(4):334-345.

Food-Sharing Networks in Lamalera, Indonesia: Status, Sharing, and Signaling.

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  • 1Department of Anthropology, University of California, Davis.


Costly signaling has been proposed as a possible mechanism to explain food sharing in foraging populations. This sharing-as-signaling hypothesis predicts an association between sharing and status. Using exponential random graph modeling (ERGM), this prediction is tested on a social network of between-household food-sharing relationships in the fishing and sea-hunting village of Lamalera, Indonesia. Previous analyses (Nolin 2010) have shown that most sharing in Lamalera is consistent with reciprocal altruism. The question addressed here is whether any additional variation may be explained as sharing-as-signaling by high-status households. The results show that high-status households both give and receive more than other households, a pattern more consistent with reciprocal altruism than costly signaling. However, once the propensity to reciprocate and household productivity are controlled, households of men holding leadership positions show greater odds of unreciprocated giving when compared to households of non-leaders. This pattern of excessive giving by leaders is consistent with the sharing-as-signaling hypothesis. Wealthy households show the opposite pattern, giving less and receiving more than other households. These households may reciprocate in a currency other than food or their wealth may attract favor-seeking behavior from others. Overall, status covariates explain little variation in the sharing network as a whole, and much of the sharing observed by high-status households is best explained by the same factors that explain sharing by other households. This pattern suggests that multiple mechanisms may operate simultaneously to promote sharing in Lamalera and that signaling may motivate some sharing by some individuals even within sharing regimes primarily maintained by other mechanisms.

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