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Hum Nat. 2007 Jun;18(2):88-108. doi: 10.1007/s12110-007-9012-2. Epub 2007 Jul 4.

Engineering Human Cooperation : Does Involuntary Neural Activation Increase Public Goods Contributions?

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Program for Evolutionary Dynamics, Harvard University, One Brattle Square, Suite 6, Cambridge, MA, 02138, USA.
Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Deutscher Platz 6, Leipzig, 04103, Germany.


In a laboratory experiment, we use a public goods game to examine the hypothesis that human subjects use an involuntary eye-detector mechanism for evaluating the level of privacy. Half of our subjects are "watched" by images of a robot presented on their computer screen. The robot-named Kismet and invented at MIT-is constructed from objects that are obviously not human with the exception of its eyes. In our experiment, Kismet produces a significant difference in behavior that is not consistent with existing economic models of preferences, either self- or other-regarding. Subjects who are "watched" by Kismet contribute 29% more to the public good than do subjects in the same setting without Kismet.


Altruism; Proximate causation; Public goods; Reciprocity; Tinbergen


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