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Nash Equilibrium, the Omerta Rule, and Doping in Cycling

The Tour de France is underway and it is already shaping up to be one of the grandest and most epic races in the event’s century-long history. If you haven’t seen a stage yet be sure to tune into the Versus Network that covers it every day, with repeat airings all day and evening. Lance is still in contention even after several crashes. In fact, I’ve never seen so many crashes in a Tour before. This event is so hard it is not surprising that, as usual, allegations and suspicions of doping have surrounded the race even before it began. Unfortunately, it appears that doping has long been a part of this — and many other — sports. Here is my explanation for why athletes in general and cyclists (my sport) in particular dope, why race organizations have such a hard time enforcing the rules, and what can be done about it.

In criminal organizations such as the Cosa Nostra in 19th century Sicily and the Mafia in 20th century southern Italy, the “omerta rule” is the code of silence, a tacit agreement among cohort members that the collective violation of the law means if you get caught you keep your mouth shut and under no circumstances cooperate with the authorities. The penalty for an omerta betrayal is ultimate and final — death.

Something like the omerta rule operates in the dark and dirty underbelly of doping in sports, or the employment of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) against the rules (and in some cases the law), in which a positive test leads to an obligatory statement of shock and denial by the guilty party, followed by a plausible explanation for how the drug mysteriously appeared in the blood or urine, ending in fines paid and/or time served and eventual return to the sport, no names named and no further questions asked.

After testing positive for steroids following his 2006 Tour de France victory, Floyd Landis obeyed the omerta rule, albeit in grander style than most, publishing a bestselling book, Positively False: The Real Story of How I Won the Tour de France, raising upwards of $600,000 for a legal defense fund, and taking his case to sports arbitration. The three-time Tour de France champion Greg LeMond told me in a phone conversation during the arbitration trial that Landis consulted him about what to do next, at which point LeMond encouraged him to come clean. “What would I gain doing that?,” LeMond recalled Landis saying. “You would clear your conscience and help save cycling,” LeMond replied.

Three years later Landis has apparently decided to take LeMond’s advice, confessing during the recent Tour of California that the “real story” of how he — and Lance Armstrong — won the Tour de France is drugs, lots and lots of PEDs: recombinant Erythropoietin (r-EPO) to artificially stimulate the production of oxygen carrying red blood cells, steroids and human growth hormone for recovery and the development of lean muscle mass, and blood boosting, or withdrawing your own blood early in the season and then re-injecting it during the Tour de France to boost red blood cell count with your own blood (thereby sidestepping the test for EPO while gaining a comparable advantage). In published emails Landis defiantly slapped the omerta rule across the face, naming names and providing details:

“I was instructed on how to use Testosterone patches by [Team Director] Johan Bruyneel”

“Mr Armstrong was not witness to the [blood] extraction but he and I had lengthy discussions about it on our training rides during which time he also explained to me the evolution of EPO testing and how transfusions were now necessary due to the inconvenience of the new test.”

Armstrong “tested positive for EPO at which point he and Mr Bruyneel flew to the UCI headquarters and made a financial agreement with Mr. Vrubrugen to keep the positive test hidden.”

“During that Tour de France I personally witnessed George Hincapie, Lance Armstrong, Chechu Rubiera, and myself receiving blood transfusions. Also during that Tour de France the team doctor would give my room mate, George Hincapie and I a small syringe of olive oil in which was disolved andriol, a form of ingestible testosterone on two out of three nights throughout the duration.”

It’s a good thing for Landis that the penalty for an omerta rule violation in sports is not what it is in the Mafia, or else he’d be the Luca Brasi of cycling and sleeping with the fishes. Why did Landis break the code of silence? The answer to this question, along with the larger question of why athletes dope, comes from game theory and something called Nash equilibrium, discovered by the Nobel Prize-winning mathematician John Nash (of Beautiful Mind fame), in which two or more players in a contest reach an equilibrium where neither one has anything to gain by unilaterally changing strategies. If each player has selected a tactic such that no player can benefit by changing tactics while the other players hold to their plans, then that particular arrangement of strategy choices is said to have reached a point of equilibrium.

Here’s how it works in sports. The point of an athletic contest is to win, and players will do whatever they can to achieve victory, which is why well-defined and strictly enforced rules are the sine qua non of all sports. The rules clearly prohibit the use of PEDs, but because the drugs are extremely effective and the payoffs for success are so high, and because most of the drugs are difficult if not impossible to detect, or the tests can be beat with countermeasures, or the governing body of the sport itself doesn’t fully support a comprehensive anti-doping testing program (as in the case of Major League Baseball and the National Football League), the incentive to dope is powerful. Once a few elite athletes in a sport defect to gain an advantage over their competitors, they too must defect (even if they only think others are doping), leading to a cascade of defection down through the ranks.

If everyone is doping there is equilibrium if and only if everyone has something to lose by violating the tacit omerta agreement. Disequilibriums can arise when not everyone is doping, or when the drug testers begin to catch up with the drug takers, or when some cheaters have nothing to lose and possibly something to gain by turning state’s evidence.

Which brings us back to Floyd Landis and Lance Armstrong, who for a decade have been in a state of relative Nash equilibrium. But when Landis lost his savings, his home, his marriage, and his livelihood, he reached a state of disequilibrium, and when he was turned down from even riding in the Tour of California after, according to Armstrong, making threats to the race organizers to let him in “or else,” he apparently decided to make good on his threat.

There is nothing more important for a sporting organization to do than to enforce the rules. If you don’t, athletes will cheat. Anyone who believes otherwise does not understand sports or human nature. As Landis explained in his confessional: “I don’t feel guilty at all about having doped. I did what I did because that’s what we [cyclists] did and it was a choice I had to make after 10 years or 12 years of hard work to get there, and that was a decision I had to make to make the next step. My choices were, do it and see if I can win, or don’t do it and I tell people I just don’t want to do that, and I decided to do it.”


The only hope of salvaging professional sports is to change the game matrix. To that end I have five recommendations:

  1. Immunity for all athletes pre-2010. Since the entire system is corrupt and most competitors have been doping, it accomplishes nothing to strip the winner of his title after the fact when it is almost certain that the runners’ up were also doping. Immunity will enable retired athletes to work with governing bodies and anti-doping agencies for improving the anti-doping system.
  2. Increase the number of competitors tested, in competition, out-of-competition, and especially immediately before or after a race to prevent counter-measures from being employed. Sport sanctioning bodies should create a baseline biological profile on each athlete before the season begins to allow for proper comparison of unusual spikes in performance in competition.
  3. An X-Prize type reward to increase the incentive of anti-doping scientists to develop new tests for presently undetectable doping agents, in order to equalize the incentive for drug testers to that of drug takers.
  4. Increase substantially the penalty for getting caught. A 50-game ban on Manny Ramirez last year was a joke. No Major League player will take that seriously as a deterrent. Professional cycling has a two-year ban, which is a good start. But it’s not enough.
  5. A return of all salary paid and prize monies earned by the convicted athlete to the team and/or its sponsors and investors, and extensive team testing of their own athletes.

Cycling is ahead of all other sports in implementing these and other preventative measures, and still some doping goes on, so vigilance is the watchword for fairness along with freedom.

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The 2nd Coolest Observatory in the World (in Chile)

Last week I visited Santiago, Chile, at the behest and invitation of Alvaro Fischer, a mathematical engineer interested in the evolutionary foundation for understanding the social sciences. Alvaro is hosting a series of conferences this year in celebration of Darwin’s 200th birthday called “Ciencia y Evolución” (Science and Evolution).

Because Darwin spent nearly a third of his 5-year voyage around the world in Chile (1/3? Wow, who knew?), Alvaro thought it appropriate to host a conference there on evolutionary everything, with three different events (May on medicine and evolution, June on economics and evolution, July on politics and evolution, and September on everything Darwin with a veritable who’s who of evolutionary theory). Next week I’ll blog about the wickedly interesting conversations between the three of us evolutionary economists: myself (a libertarian atheist), Kevin McCabe (a conservative Catholic from George Mason University who does neuroeconomics), and Ulrich Wit from the Max Planck Institute in Jena, Germany (a socialist economist). Suffice it to say that the dinner conversations, along with the public debate, saw fireworks. More on that later.

Because I had heard that Chile has one of the largest telescope arrays in the world, Alvaro was kind enough to hook me up with Dr. Massimo Terenghi, who orchestrated the design, construction, and implementation of the Paranal observatory, which houses four 8.2 meter telescopes and four smaller meter-size telescopes, plus the architectural-award winning hotel/living quarters for the astronomers and staff, featured in the latest Bond flick, Quantum of Solace. After my talks, Massimo and I flew from Santiago two hours north to Antofagasta, then drove two hours inland through the Atacama desert, one of the driest places on Earth, then made the climb up the mountain to this amazing cluster of buildings and telescopes. (See the photo gallery below that accompanies this commentary.)

When Massimo was 14 he had a thriving stamp collection for which he was so dedicated that his grades collapsed, so his mom put the collection away and gave Massimo a book to read and told him to get serious about learning. The book was on astronomy and he’s never looked back, blasting through his education at the University of Milan with a doctoral degree in theoretical astrophysics, completing his dissertation on gamma radiation from the galactic core. He then moved to Arizona where he participated in the first research on the large-scale distribution of galaxies throughout the universe (that spidery/soap bubbly model of galaxy distribution we’ve all seen on countless science channel shows). Massimo then returned to Europe to co-found the European Organization for Astronomy in the Southern Hemisphere (ESO) and began scouting for a high dry place to look at the heavens. Enter Chile and the Atacama desert, where humidity hovers around 5% and it never rains (unlike Southern California where, despite the song, it rains way too often for astronomers with no time to spare). Seriously, this place is in the middle of nowhere. It looks exactly like Mars, except it has a blue sky and a paved road. Just Google Earth “Paranal Observatory” and you’ll see what I mean.

How sophisticated are these telescopes? The astronomers are not even allowed in the domes at night! These telescopes are so complicated that they are run by engineers trained to do nothing but drive these puppies every night from a control center. Analogy: observing a solar eclipse from a 747 doesn’t mean that you also know how to fly the 747. That’s what these telescopes are like, with hundreds of computers that micro-adjust the mirrors and coordinate 1, 2, 3, or even 4 of the 8.2 meter telescopes at once.

How big are these mirrors? The #1 telescope in the Shermer Telescope Ranking System (STRS) is Mt. Wilson’s 100-inch Hooker telescope, from which Edwin Hubble discovered that the Milky Way galaxy is just one of billions of galaxies that are all expanding away from one another. (That’s how you get a space telescope named after yourself!) The ESO telescopes are 8.2 meters = 26.9028 feet = 322.8 inches, or over three times the size of the Hooker, and there’s four of them!!! Believe me when I tell you, I was not dumb enough to ask where the eyepiece was on these babies. But if they did put an eyepiece on one of them, and you pointed it at the moon where Apollo 11 landed 40 years ago next month, just before you went blind you would be able to see the lunar landing base (the bottom of the LEM). Now that’s a telescope!

So, suffice it to say, I was in good hands for my visit to this cosmic Mecca, and we made good use of the travel time to discuss the Big Questions in life, including God: Massimo is a believer. And not in Einstein’s/Spinoza’s deistic god, but Yahweh, the God of Abraham. Why? After admitting that his beliefs are undoubtedly influenced by his Italian Catholic upbringing, as a professional astronomer he is continually struck by the remarkable beauty and magnificent grandeur of the cosmos, which his reason and intuition tell him could not have come about through natural forces alone. Of course I countered with the multiverse argument, and we reviewed the various points pro-and-con about the likelihood of life evolving elsewhere in the cosmos and what this might mean for religion and theology. (Massimo is convinced that virtually every star we will be studying with the upcoming space-based and ground-based telescopes will have planets, and that surely there is intelligent life elsewhere in the cosmos.)

As such conversations should, this one ended with two friends finding mutual respect for different positions, because life is too short. We had a lively dialogue on our way down the mountain and I feel exceptionally fortunate to have made the acquaintance of Massimo Terenghi, one of the most interesting people I have met in my travels. And I promised him that the next time he comes to Southern California that I would take him to the #1 telescope in the world….

Click any one of the photos below to enlarge it. Then, you can navigate back and forth between the photos using the NEXT and PREVIOUS buttons that appear when you hover your mouse over the photo.

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Darwinian Psychology Goes Mainstream

The friendly folks behind the registration counter were efficient in processing the badges for the 450+ attendees, plus selling you a t-shirt or two of primate Darwin, denoting that this year’s HBES conference celebrates the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of <em>The Origin of Species</em>.

The friendly folks behind the registration counter were efficient in processing the badges for the 450+ attendees, plus selling you a t-shirt or two of primate Darwin, denoting that this year’s HBES conference celebrates the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of The Origin of Species.

On Friday May 29 I attended the 21st annual conference of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society (HBES) — the official organization of evolutionary psychologists and champions of applying Darwinian thinking to human psychology. The last HBES meeting I attended was at U.C. Santa Barbara in 1995, which was sparsely attended compared to this year’s 450+ attendees packed into tiny conference rooms for the simultaneous sessions — always a frustrating choice architecture when you want to attend more than one talk being presented at the same time. I only had a day to attend the three-day conference, so this will be necessarily unrepresentative of the remarkable body of research now being churched out by hundreds of professional evolutionary psychologists from all over the world.

I should note at the top that on this, the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of the publication of The Origin of Species, it is embarrassing that it is only now that the application of Darwinian principles are fully coming online in mainstream psychological research laboratories. In my book The Science of Good and Evil I include a history and explanation for the delay, but it still amazes me that only now has it become acceptable to include Darwin in discussions of human animal behavior. As one of the founders of the field, David Buss, likes to say (quoting, I think, Donald Symons), “evolutionary psychology” is a redundancy — given the fact that 99% of our history as a species has been spent as bipedal primates in an ancestral Paleolithic environment all psychology should be evolutionary. The fact that there is no such thing as “non-evolutionary psychology” speaks volumes, even though unofficially most psychology throughout the 20th century was just that — non-evolutionary. That problem is now coming to a close as we enter a new era of all psychology as evolutionary.

Two superstars of evolutionary psychology—David Buss from U.T. Austin and Martie Haselton from UCLA—both of whom study sexual attraction and relationships from an evolutionary perspective, confer on their latest data. In years to come Haselton will get to personally test her theories teasing apart nature and nurture on her own newly-born twins.

Two superstars of evolutionary psychology—David Buss from U.T. Austin and Martie Haselton from UCLA—both of whom study sexual attraction and relationships from an evolutionary perspective, confer on their latest data. In years to come Haselton will get to personally test her theories teasing apart nature and nurture on her own newly-born twins.

Incest is not Best

One of the most interesting talks of the day was by Elizabeth Pillsworth, a graduate student at UCLA in the lab of Martie Haselton, who studies sexual attraction, relationships, and how fertility cycles influence mate preferences and choices (e.g., women dress in a more sexually provocative manner during the high fertility phase of the month). In an interesting twist on this body of research, Pillsworth studied the effects of the fertility phase in women on the incest taboo — specifically, how often college-aged women phoned their dads (versus their moms) during the month. Wow. It never ceases to amaze me at how clever scientists can be in thinking up new research paradigms: who ever would have thought of correlating cell phone calls with estrus cycles? Pillsworth and Haselton (and their colleague Debra Lieberman) did! And the results were most revealing.

But first, some background. Kin affiliation in evolution is critical for predator avoidance, food procurement and sharing, protection from the elements, etc. I.e., being in a family group is extremely important for mammals. But there is an equally important downside: inbreeding. If you mate with people who are genetically similar to you, there are consequences: higher rates of infant mortality, deformed sperm, sterility, and genetic defects of all sorts — think hemophilia in the royal families of Europe in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Research shows that the offspring of 1st cousins twice as likely to suffer congenital malformation and genetic disease and up to a 5% increase in mortality; the offspring of siblings show a 45% increased risk of mortality. Thus, mammals evolved numerous adaptations for inbreeding avoidance: dispersal from natal groups (usually sex-biased), kin recognition and avoidance, extra-pair/extra-group copulations rather than copulate within their group. Pillsworth cited a study on horses that found Mares only leave the group temporarily to other breeding groups. So there’s a conflict of wanting to be close to your kin and kind, but not too close.

Hypothesis on incest avoidance: near ovulation women are motivated to avoid affiliation with male kin (fathers) but not mothers, to avoid the potential costs of inbreeding. Predictions: relative to low-fertility days, on high-fertility days women will initiate fewer calls with fathers and engage in shorter conversation with fathers, compared to mothers. The researchers had 51 normally-ovulating women (mean age 19.1) who provided complete cell phone bills from one month, along with their menstrual cycle information and details about individuals on their phone bill. Results: the subjects called their fathers significantly less than their mothers during high fertility days, and when both mothers and fathers called them during high fertility days they spent less time on the phone with their dads than their moms. Conclusion: “this is the first evidence of adaptation in human females to avoid affiliation with male kin when fertility is at its highest.”

This study was of particular interest to me because I have a 17-year old daughter who will be going off to college in a little over a year, and like most parents I’m dreading the day she is gone and I’ll lose my daily contact with her and am hoping that she calls regularly. I guess now I have to make a mental note of her high fertility days and expect fewer calls from her, but being that I’m her dad, that won’t stop me from calling her and stalling on the phone just to mess with her evolved psychology!

Sexual Hypocrisy

U.T. Austin evolutionary psychologist David Buss examined “Sexual Double Standards: The Evolution of Moral Hypocrisy.” Buss began with the well-known double standard in society that “men are socially rewarded and women socially derogated for sexual activity.” Why? Most explanations are typically culturally-determined: local social constructions, gender role expectations, American males have been culturally conditioned, cultural illusions, social learning, sexual script theory. Buss wants to know if there are adaptations that might create a sexual double standard, for example:

  • Mate value assessment adaptations in men: render sexually open women less valuable as Long-Term mates, but not as Short-Term mates.
  • Mate value assessment adaptations in women: render sexually successful men higher in mate value.
  • Intrasexual competition adaptations in women to inflict costs on women who pursue a Short-Term mating strategy, for example, the derogation of competitors (“she’s loose” “she’s a slut”).

Are sexual double standards cross-cultural or only an artifact of modern Western society? Buss presented data from a cross-cultural study across 15 different cultures (n=2,471) that examined the impact of various acts on status and reputation. Results:

  • Being a virgin and effect on status and reputation: male’s reputation does down, female’s goes up.
  • Being sexually experienced on status and reputation: male’s goes up, female’s varies, but is less positive.
  • Reputation as an easily accessible sexual partner: negative for both males and females.
  • Having sex with a date on the first night: tends to be bad for both, but worse for females than males.
  • Having sex with two people in one night: negative impact of status and reputation for both sexes, but more for women than men; Women view other women more negatively than they view men who have had sex with two people in one night.
  • Being unfaithful to a Long-Term mate: decreases status for both sexes, but women more than men.
  • Having an unfaithful mate: loss of status for both sexes, but more status loss for men than for women.

In other words, sexual double standards exist and are robust across cultures, and the reputational consequences are ubiquitous but worse for women than for men.

Evolutionary psychologists Steven Gangestad and David Buss chat during one of the breaks between talks. Gangestad spoke on: “Men’s Facial Masculinity, but Not Their Intelligence, Predicts Changes in Their Female partners’ Sexual Interests Across the Ovulatory Cycle” (see summary in the text), while David Buss spoke on: “Sexual Double Standards: The Evolution of Moral Hypocrisy” (see summary in the text).

Evolutionary psychologists Steven Gangestad and David Buss chat during one of the breaks between talks. Gangestad spoke on: “Men’s Facial Masculinity, but Not Their Intelligence, Predicts Changes in Their Female partners’ Sexual Interests Across the Ovulatory Cycle” (see summary in the text), while David Buss spoke on: “Sexual Double Standards: The Evolution of Moral Hypocrisy” (see summary in the text).

Brains Alone Won’t Get you Laid

In a related talk Steven Gangstad examined: “Men’s Facial Masculinity, but Not Their Intelligence, Predicts Changes in Their Female partners’ Sexual Interests Across the Ovulatory Cycle”. If you get that title, guys, it means that being super smart will not make up for lacking a masculine face when women are in their most fertile phase of the month and in search of a sexual partner. Gangestad reviewed the literature on what fertile women find sexy in men: symmetrical face, masculine face, faces of men with high testosterone, masculine voices, social dominance, etc. When women are in estrus (their most fertile phase of the month), the patterns of attractions are a function of fertility status: during estrus women do not report being more attracted to their partners, but they do report greater attractions to extra-pair men. When women are paired with men who have less preferred partners they are more likely to stray during estrus. What about intelligence?

According to Geoffrey Miller, indicators of intelligence may have been indicators of good genes, and that perhaps big brains evolved through sexual selection because women are attracted to smart guys (this is the “brain-as-peacock-tail” theory). Unfortunately (for all the eggheads in the world!), previous studies found no correlation between intelligence and women’s sexual interest during estrus. Gangestad added facial attractiveness and facial masculinity to the equation. “Results revealed predicted effects of male partners’ facial masculinity and attractiveness, but no hint of any effect of partners’ intelligence.” Sorry all you smart cookies out there; you’ll just need to man up your face more rather than memorizing Wikipedia entries.

Selfish Heroes

Because of my interest in the evolution of morality, I first attended the session on Altruism, with an opening talk entitled “The Selfish Hero: A study of the individual benefits of self-sacrificial behavior by members of small groups” by Francis T. McAndrew. He began by explaining the evolution of altruism by “costly signaling theory,” which basically argues that people are occasionally super nice and self-sacrificial toward others (seemingly un-Darwinian) because they gain social status by so doing. That is, by doing something costly you signal to your fellow group members that you have plenty of resources and good genes, and therefore such altruistic acts may have been selected for in evolutionary history.

This, McAndrew argues, helps explain our fascination with heroes. Using 48 undergraduate subjects, 24 same-sex, three-person groups consisting of an experimental confederate and two naïve subjects participated in a ‘group decision making” study in which the success of the group depended upon the willingness of one of its members (the confederate) to endure pain and inconvenience. If the group successfully completed a series of tasks, it could divide $45 among its three members. The results confirmed that engaging in self-sacrificial costly behavior for the good of a group can be a profitable long-term strategy. The ordeal that individuals playing the role of the altruist had to endure was judged to be more difficult and costly than the experience of other group members, but in the end the altruists were rewarded with more money and higher status.

Cads and Dads

The next talk was by Julia Pradel, of the University of Cologne, entitled “Partner in Life or One-Night stand? How reproductive strategies might have shaped the evolution of altruism.” Pradel began by asking: “How could altruism — which by definition reduces an individual’s fitness — ever have evolved?” Like McAndrew, Pradel adopted costly signaling theory: “Only people high in genetic fitness can afford to help others.” Moral virtues, she said, have two signaling functions: 1. Good partnership and parenting characteristics; 2. Good genes. Thus, prosocial traits should be sexually attractive, and therefore sexual selection plus costly signaling theory explains altruism. If so, then why do people differ in altruistic tendencies? Pradel’s answer can be found in the theory of strategic pluralism: both sexes possess psychological adaptations for both short term relationships and long term relationships. Preferences for long-term as opposed to short-term relationships vary among individuals (e.g., women choose between “Cads” and “Dads”). Perhaps altruism was a means to compensate for weaknesses in genetic quality (e.g., lack of physical attractiveness). Mixed reproductive strategies suggest distinctive mate preferences depending on the length of sexual relationship (short-term v. long-term).

Hypothesis 1: Altruism serves as a signal of both good partnership/parenting and good genes, and thus it is perceived sexually attractive in both potential short-term and long-term. Hypothesis 2: Altruism will be a signal for long-term relationships only.

170 raters watched short video-clips of target persons with varying physical attractiveness and received additional information on the targets’ level of altruism. In a between-subjects-design, raters indicated their desire to win the targets as either (a) short-term mates or (b) long-term mates. While altruism was a significant predictor for long-term desire, it was irrelevant for rating short-term mates. The results suggest that although altruism is costly, at least for some individuals it might be a wretched necessity to obtain access to mates and to reproduce.

Smile, You’re On Candid Camera

Related to these findings, Mizuho Shinada and Toshio Yamagishi examined “Trust and Detection of Trustworthiness.” They began by noting that if altruists choose partners randomly, the average payoff to defectors will always exceed the average payoff to cooperators, therefore altruists cannot survive in evolutionary history. However, if altruists can distinguish altruists from non-altruists, altruists will choose altruists and build cooperative relationships, and thus altruists will get a higher payoff by cooperative interaction with altruists. Therefore, people should be able to distinguish altruists from non-altruists by facial expressions, such as the ability to tell the difference between a fake smile and a genuine smile (it has to do with the eyes: a genuine smile usually includes a slight squinting of the eyes whereas a fake smile does not). Thus, only altruists should have altruism-detection skills because altruists would be chosen as interaction partners if people can detect altruists from non-altruists, and non-altruists cannot be chosen by altruists even if they can detect altruists. To date, however, no study has reported that altruists are more accurate than non-altruists in detecting cheaters or altruists. Why?

One answer: the co-evolution of trust and altruism-detection. Altruists who don’t trust strangers don’t want to leave the current relationship and seek a new partner. Those who don’t trust strangers don’t have alternatives from which to choose — the ability to tell cooperators from defectors is of no use for them since they have no alternative to choose from. Those who trust strangers should have altruism-detection abilities. To these these hypotheses, Shinada and Yamagishi first had 47 males and 53 females (average age of 48) answer a questionnaire that included a trust scale consisting of five items, then showed them faces of genuine or fake smiles (20 faces total, 10 real and 10 fake smiles). Results: participant’s trust level positively correlated with the detection accuracy of genuine smile (r = 0.39, p<.0001), and high trusters are more accurate in distinguishing genuine smile from fake smiles when compared to low trusters.

Three six-foot tables were chockablock full of books on evolutionary psychology, indicate  just how far this science has grown in the past decade. Monographs, textbooks, and popular trade books provide something for everyone who wants to know more about why we behave as we do from a Darwinian perspective.

Three six-foot tables were chockablock full of books on evolutionary psychology, indicate just how far this science has grown in the past decade. Monographs, textbooks, and popular trade books provide something for everyone who wants to know more about why we behave as we do from a Darwinian perspective.

In a second study, Shinada and Yamagishi had participants (perceivers, n=99) watched 5-second video-clips. The videos were filmed while the other participants (targets, n=102) played a Trust Game. Before the experiment, they measured the perceiver’s trust level using a questionnaire. They found positive correlations between the perceiver’s trust level, “trustworthy bias” (i.e., the frequency that perceivers judged targets as trustworthy), and age: high-trusters and elderly perceivers tended to expect that most people were trustworthy. Furthermore, the perceivers trust level was positively correlated with the detection accuracy of trustworthiness when they controlled for the perceiver’s age: high-trusters were able to detect the trustworthiness of others with more accuracy than low-trusters.

Conclusions: adaptive advantages of altruism detection exists only when actors choose potential alternative partners, and high trusters who are willing to choose new partners were more accurate in detecting other’s trustworthiness via facial expressions than low-trusters were.

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