Capitalism made us 'kinder,' study says Helped us evolve into a trusting, fair society Margaret Munro, Canwest News Service Published: Friday, March 19, 2010 The free market has been more than just an economic philosophy, it has helped to drive the evolution of more trusting and co-operative societies over the past 10,000 years, a new study says. "We live in a much kinder, gentler world than most humans have lived in," says anthropologist Joe Henrich of the University of British Columbia, lead author of the study. The finding, reported yesterday in the journal Science, suggests people trust and play fair with strangers because markets and religion -- not some deep psychological instinct inherited from our dim tribal past -- have helped shape our neural circuitry over the eons. The 13 researchers on Mr. Henrich's international team spent time -- and played clever psychological games -- with more than 2,000 people in 15 different societies. One researcher trekked to Bolivia to play the games with the Tsimane people who hunt and forage for food in the rainforest. Another anthropologist introduced the games to the Hadza living in small nomadic groups on the savannah in Tanzania. At the other end of the human spectrum, the researchers studied wage earners in Accra, Ghana and Missouri, in the American Midwest. In each of the 15 societies they recruited volunteers to play Dictator, Ultimatum and Third-Party Punishment -- games widely used by researchers to gauge people's willingness to share with strangers, and punish people who make unfair allocations. The study found that the likelihood that people "played fair" with strangers increased with the degree people were integrated into markets and participated in a world religion. Participants in the larger-scale societies were also more likely to punish players who did not play fair. The hunter-gatherer and tribal societies studied are known for sharing among family and close acquaintances. But the researchers found fair play in monetary transactions with strangers was almost an alien concept. People in the simpler societies treated strangers less fairly and were less likely to punish people who kept most of the money for themselves. Social scientists -- and economists in particular -- have long been baffled with the way people in large societies are so trusting and fair in dealings with strangers. Many academics have argued it is a throwback to a time when humans were hunter-gatherers. Mr. Henrich and his colleagues say their findings indicate playing fair with strangers is a behaviour that was favoured as the size of societies and populations grew. The emergence and growth of markets allowed for the exchange of goods, skills and knowledge and enabled large complex societies to emerge and function, says Mr. Henrich, noting that humans in large societies are not nearly as selfish as some would suggest. "There are all these aspects to our lives that just seem to work, because we are not actually baboons," says Mr. Henrich in an interview. He says life -- and commerce -- would be much different without trust and fair play: "Shoplifting would be a constant threat. Fruit sellers couldn't put fruit in front of their stores. Cab drivers would have to take the money up front." The study also suggests world religions, such as Christianity and Islam, were a potent evolutionary force, favouring the growth of complex societies by reinforcing fairness and trust. "The problem with large, impersonal societies is there is lots of opportunity to cheat at the margins, and to do the wrong thing," says Mr. Henrich. Religion helped check bad behaviour. Mr. Henrich says policy-makers and economists need be more aware that fair play and altruism are powerful forces that motivate people to do things for the public good, such as donate blood, recycle or conserve energy. But he notes that blood donations can actually drop when people are paid money to give blood because the cash takes away the "warm glow of altruism." --------------------------- Our Gurus in all faiths stress on donation. Does it help in releasing positive chemicals which brings us a feeling of satisfaction. Is it all scientific after all? Do we have a unified theory of religion and health also? Similar to Unified theory of matter, waves and interactions?