Do Altruists Like Equity?


  • Tiaza Bem
  • Piotr Pokarowski
  • Pierre Meyrand


Altruism and inequity aversion are often conceptually interrelated, which implies that altruistic and selfish humans may respond differently to disadvantageous inequity conditions. However, a correlation between altruism and inequity responses has thus far not been directly tested experimentally. We have addressed this question using an experimental paradigm inspired by animal experiments in which adult humans work for real food rewards. We have studied whether subjects' responses to different reward distributions were altered by being exposed to equitable or non-equitable situations. In the control conditions, subjects expressed either a strong altruistic attitude, choosing to work for their partner's welfare in the majority of trials, or mostly rejected this course of action. These purely altruistic and selfish behaviors were also expressed after being exposed to disadvantageous inequity, but priming with equitable conditions significantly reduced their occurrence. This implies an important role of inequity pressure, which is presumably present in modern society, in shaping human-helping attitudes.