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The test that Henrich introduced to the Machiguenga was called the ultimatum game.The rules are simple: in each game there are two players who remain anonymous to each other.Henrich used a “game”—along the lines of the famous prisoner’s dilemma—to see whether isolated cultures shared with the West the same basic instinct for fairness.In doing so, Henrich expected to confirm one of the foundational assumptions underlying such experiments, and indeed underpinning the entire fields of economics and psychology: that humans all share the same cognitive machinery—the same evolved rational and psychological hardwiring.Together the three set about writing a paper that they hoped would fundamentally challenge the way social scientists thought about human behavior, cognition, and culture.
"The word 'unethical' came up." So instead of toeing the line, he switched teams.
"They just didn’t understand why anyone would sacrifice money to punish someone who had the good luck of getting to play the other role in the game." The potential implications of the unexpected results were quickly apparent to Henrich.
He knew that a vast amount of scholarly literature in the social sciences—particularly in economics and psychology—relied on the ultimatum game and similar experiments.
While the setting was fairly typical for an anthropologist, Henrich’s research was not.
Rather than practice traditional ethnography, he decided to run a behavioral experiment that had been developed by economists.In no society did he find people who were purely selfish (that is, who always offered the lowest amount, and never refused a split), but average offers from place to place varied widely and, in some societies—ones where gift-giving is heavily used to curry favor or gain allegiance—the first player would often make overly generous offers in excess of 60 percent, and the second player would often reject them, behaviors almost never observed among Americans. Presidential Early Career Award for young scientists at the White House. When he presented his research to the anthropology department at the University of British Columbia during a job interview a year later, he recalls a hostile reception.