Adaptive Human Behavior and Physiology

, Volume 5, Issue 3, pp 274–296 | Cite as

Why Be Generous? Tests of the Partner Choice and Threat Premium Models of Resource Division

  • Adar B. EisenbruchEmail author
  • Rachel L. Grillot
  • James R. Roney
Original Article



The ability to divide resources is crucial for a social and cooperative species like humans, but how humans divide resources remains unclear. Recent results using economic games have suggested conflicting models: The ‘partner choice’ perspective argues that generosity is (in part) a bid for an ongoing cooperative relationship, so generosity is expected to be elicited by cues of cooperative partner value. The ‘threat premium’ perspective argues that generosity is (in part) an attempt to avoid violent retaliation, so generosity is expected to be elicited by cues of threat potential.


We tested these competing hypotheses using a dyad study in which pairs of undergraduate participants (N = 312) had a half-hour face-to-face conversation, evaluated each other on components of cooperative partner value and physical dominance, and completed 4 economic tasks comprising 7 resource division decisions.


Generosity was uniquely predicted by cues of the ability to produce material benefits in an ancestral environment, this effect was stronger for men, and generosity tracked other measures of social attraction. In contrast, the partner’s physical dominance did not predict generosity.


We observed support for the partner choice approach to resource divisions. Implications for the study of social preferences and resource divisions are discussed.


Partner choice Cooperation Threat premium Economic games Generosity 



This study was funded by NSF Grant BCS-1349023 to JRR.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

40750_2019_117_MOESM1_ESM.docx (16.1 mb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 16501 kb)


  1. Aktipis, C. A. (2004). Know when to walk away: Contingent movement and the evolution of cooperation. Journal of Theoretical Biology, 231(2), 249–260. Scholar
  2. Aktipis, A., de Aguiar, R., Flaherty, A., Iyer, P., Sonkoi, D., & Cronk, L. (2016). Cooperation in an uncertain world: For the Maasai of East Africa, need-based transfers outperform account-keeping in volatile environments. Human Ecology, 44(3), 353–364. Scholar
  3. Apicella, C. L. (2014). Upper-body strength predicts hunting reputation and reproductive success in Hadza hunter–gatherers. Evolution and Human Behavior, 35(6), 508–518. Scholar
  4. Aron, A., Melinat, E., Aron, E. N., Vallone, R. D., & Bator, R. J. (1997). The experimental generation of interpersonal closeness: A procedure and some preliminary findings. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 23(4), 363–377.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Barclay, P. (2013). Strategies for cooperation in biological markets, especially for humans. Evolution and Human Behavior, 34(3), 164–175. Scholar
  6. Barclay, P., & Willer, R. (2007). Partner choice creates competitive altruism in humans. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 274(1610), 749–753. Scholar
  7. Benenson, J. F., Markovits, H., & Wrangham, R. (2014). Rank influences human sex differences in dyadic cooperation. Current Biology, 24(5), R190–R191.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Berg, J., Dickhaut, J., & McCabe, K. (1995). Trust, reciprocity, and social history. Games and Economic Behavior, 10(1), 122–142.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Breslin, P. A. S. (2013). An evolutionary perspective on food and human taste. Current Biology, 23(9), R409–R418. Scholar
  10. Bühren, C., & Kundt, T. C. (2015). Imagine being a nice guy: A note on hypothetical vs. incentivized social preferences. Judgment and Decision making, 10(2), 185–190.Google Scholar
  11. Buss, D. M. (1989). Sex differences in human mate preferences: Evolutionary hypotheses tested in 37 cultures. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 12(1), 1–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Cosmides, L., & Tooby, J. (1989). Evolutionary psychology and the generation of culture, part II -- case study: A computational theory of social exchange. Ethology and Sociobiology, 10(1–3), 51–97. Scholar
  13. Cosmides, L., & Tooby, J. (1992). Cognitive adaptations for social exchange. In J. Barkow, L. Cosmides, & J. Tooby (Eds.), The adapted mind: Evolutionary psychology and the generation of culture (pp. 163–228). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Cosmides, L., & Tooby, J. (2005). Neurocognitive adaptations designed for social exchange. In D. M. Buss (Ed.), The handbook of evolutionary psychology (pp. 584–627). New York: Wiley.Google Scholar
  15. Daly, M., & Wilson, M. (1988). Homicide. New York: Aldine de Gruyter.Google Scholar
  16. Debove, S., André, J.-B., & Baumard, N. (2015). Partner choice creates fairness in humans. Proc. R. Soc. B, 282(1808), 20150392.Google Scholar
  17. Delton, A. W., & Robertson, T. E. (2012). The social cognition of social foraging: Partner selection by underlying valuation. Evolution and Human Behavior, 33(6), 715–725.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Delton, A. W., & Robertson, T. E. (2016). How the mind makes welfare tradeoffs: Evolution, computation, and emotion. Current Opinion in Psychology, 7, 12–16. Scholar
  19. Delton, A. W., Krasnow, M. M., Cosmides, L., & Tooby, J. (2011). Evolution of direct reciprocity under uncertainty can explain human generosity in one-shot encounters. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108(32), 13335–13340.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Eckel, C. C., & Grossman, P. J. (1996). Altruism in anonymous dictator games. Games and Economic Behavior, 16(2), 181–191. Scholar
  21. Eisenbruch, A. B., & Roney, J. R. (2016). Conception risk and the ultimatum game: When fertility is high, women demand more. Personality and Individual Differences, 98, 272–274. Scholar
  22. Eisenbruch, A. B., & Roney, J. R. (2017). The skillful and the stingy: Partner choice decisions and fairness intuitions suggest human adaptation for a biological market of cooperators. Evolutionary Psychological Science, 3(4), 364–378. Scholar
  23. Eisenbruch, A. B., & Roney, J. R. (under review). Social Taste Buds: Evidence of Evolved Same-Sex Friend Preferences from a Policy-Capturing Study.Google Scholar
  24. Eisenbruch, A. B., Grillot, R. L., Maestripieri, D., & Roney, J. R. (2016). Evidence of partner choice heuristics in a one-shot bargaining game. Evolution and Human Behavior, 37(6), 429–439. Scholar
  25. Eisenbruch, A. B., Lukaszewski, A. W., & Roney, J. R. (2017). It is not all about mating: Attractiveness predicts partner value across multiple relationship domains. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 40.
  26. Eisenbruch, A. B., Grillot, R. L., & Roney, J. R. (under review). What are friends for?: Cues of ancestral cooperative partner value predict same-sex friend preferences.Google Scholar
  27. Fiske, S. T., Cuddy, A. J., & Glick, P. (2007). Universal dimensions of social cognition: Warmth and competence. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 11(2), 77–83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Geniole, S. N., MacDonell, E. T., & McCormick, C. M. (2017). The threat premium in economic bargaining. Evolution and Human Behavior, 38(5), 572–582. Scholar
  29. Güth, W., & Kocher, M. G. (2014). More than thirty years of ultimatum bargaining experiments: Motives, variations, and a survey of the recent literature. Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 108, 396–409. Scholar
  30. Hall, J. A. (2011). Sex differences in friendship expectations: A meta-analysis. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 28(6), 723–747. Scholar
  31. Hamermesh, D. S., & Biddle, J. E. (1994). Beauty and the labor market. The American Economic Review, 84(5), 1174–1194.Google Scholar
  32. Hammerstein, P., & Noë, R. (2016). Biological trade and markets. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 371(1687), 20150101. Scholar
  33. Hammerstein, P., & Parker, G. A. (1982). The asymmetric war of attrition. Journal of Theoretical Biology, 96(4), 647–682. Scholar
  34. Heifetz, A., & Segev, E. (2004). The evolutionary role of toughness in bargaining. Games and Economic Behavior, 49(1), 117–134. Scholar
  35. Henrich, J., Heine, S. J., & Norenzayan, A. (2010). The weirdest people in the world? Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 33(2–3), 61–83. Scholar
  36. Hrdy, S. B. (2000). Mother nature: Maternal instincts and how they shape the human species. Ballantine Books.Google Scholar
  37. Huck, S., Kirchsteiger, G., & Oechssler, J. (2005). Learning to like what you have: Explaining the endowment effect. The Economic Journal, 115(505), 689–702.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Kahneman, D., Knetsch, J. L., & Thaler, R. H. (1990). Experimental tests of the endowment effect and the Coase theorem. Journal of Political Economy, 98(6), 1325–1348.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Kahneman, D., Knetsch, J. L., & Thaler, R. H. (1991). Anomalies: The endowment effect, loss aversion, and status quo bias. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 5(1), 193–206. Scholar
  40. Krasnow, M. M., Cosmides, L., Pedersen, E. J., & Tooby, J. (2012). What are punishment and reputation for? PLoS One, 7(9), e45662.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Krasnow, M. M., Delton, A. W., Cosmides, L., & Tooby, J. (2016). Looking under the Hood of third-party punishment reveals Design for Personal Benefit. Psychological Science, 27(3), 405–418. Scholar
  42. Krupp, D. B., DeBruine, L. M., & Jones, B. C. (2011). Apparent health encourages reciprocity. Evolution and Human Behavior, 32(3), 198–203. Scholar
  43. Laustsen, L., Petersen, M. B., & Klofstad, C. A. (2015). Vote choice, ideology, and social dominance orientation influence preferences for lower pitched voices in political candidates. Evolutionary Psychology, 13(3), 147470491560057. Scholar
  44. Lewis, D. M., Conroy-Beam, D., Al-Shawaf, L., Raja, A., DeKay, T., & Buss, D. M. (2011). Friends with benefits: The evolved psychology of same-and opposite-sex friendship. Evolutionary Psychology, 9(4), 147470491100900400.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Lucas, M., & Koff, E. (2013). How conception risk affects competition and cooperation with attractive women and men. Evolution and Human Behavior, 34(1), 16–22. Scholar
  46. Maestripieri, D., Henry, A., & Nickels, N. (2017). Explaining financial and prosocial biases in favor of attractive people: Interdisciplinary perspectives from economics, social psychology, and evolutionary psychology. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 40.Google Scholar
  47. Mandel, D. R. (2006). Economic transactions among friends: Asymmetric generosity but not agreement in buyers’ and sellers’ offers. Journal of Conflict Resolution, 50(4), 584–606. Scholar
  48. Marlowe, F. W. (2007). Hunting and gathering: The human sexual division of foraging labor. Cross-Cultural Research, 41(2), 170–195.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Marlowe, F. W. (2010). The Hadza: Hunter-gatherers of Tanzania. Berkeley: Univ of California Press.Google Scholar
  50. Maynard-Smith, J. (1979). Game theory and the evolution of behaviour. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences, 205(1161), 475–488. Retrieved from JSTOR.Google Scholar
  51. Muggleton, N. K., Tarran, S. R., & Fincher, C. L. (2018). Who punishes promiscuous women? Both women and women, but only women inflict costly punishment. Evolution and Human Behavior, 40, 259–268. Scholar
  52. Nelissen, R. M. A., Leliveld, M. C., van Dijk, E., & Zeelenberg, M. (2011). Fear and guilt in proposers: Using emotions to explain offers in ultimatum bargaining. European Journal of Social Psychology, 41(1), 78–85. Scholar
  53. Noë, R., & Hammerstein, P. (1994). Biological markets: Supply and demand determine the effect of partner choice in cooperation, mutualism and mating. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 35(1), 1–11.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Pareek, A., & Zuckerman, R. (2014). Trust and Investment Management: The Effects of Manager Trustworthiness on Hedge Fund Investments (SSRN Scholarly Paper No. ID 1659189). Retrieved from Social Science Research Network website: Accessed 2 Sept 2019.
  55. Petersen, M. B., Sznycer, D., Sell, A., Cosmides, L., & Tooby, J. (2013). The ancestral logic of politics: Upper-body strength regulates men’s assertion of self-interest over economic redistribution. Psychological Science, 24(7), 1098–1103.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Peterson, D., & Wrangham, R. (1997). Demonic Males: Apes and the Origins of Human Violence (10/15/97 edition). Boston: Mariner Books.Google Scholar
  57. Pisor, A. C., & Gurven, M. (2016). Risk buffering and resource access shape valuation of out-group strangers. Scientific Reports, 6, 30435. Scholar
  58. Pisor, A. C., & Gurven, M. (2018). When to diversify, and with whom? Choosing partners among out-group strangers in lowland Bolivia. Evolution and Human Behavior, 39(1), 30–39. Scholar
  59. Raihani, N. J., & Barclay, P. (2016). Exploring the trade-off between quality and fairness in human partner choice. Royal Society Open Science, 3(11), 160510.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Roberts, G. (1998). Competitive altruism: From reciprocity to the handicap principle. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 265(1394), 427–431. Scholar
  61. Roney, J. R., Grillot, R. L., Eisenbruch, A. B., & Emery Thompson, M. (in prep). Hormone Responses to Initial Social Interactions: Endocrine Signatures of Human Romantic Attraction.Google Scholar
  62. Sell, A., Cosmides, L., Tooby, J., Sznycer, D., von Rueden, C., & Gurven, M. (2009a). Human adaptations for the visual assessment of strength and fighting ability from the body and face. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 276(1656), 575–584. Scholar
  63. Sell, A., Tooby, J., & Cosmides, L. (2009b). Formidability and the logic of human anger. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106(35), 15073–15078. Scholar
  64. Smith, K. M., & Apicella, C. L. (2019). Partner choice in human evolution: The role of character, hunting ability, and reciprocity in Hadza campmate selection.
  65. Smith, K. M., Olkhov, Y. M., Puts, D. A., & Apicella, C. L. (2017). Hadza men with lower voice pitch have a better hunting reputation. Evolutionary Psychology, 15(4), 1474704917740466. Scholar
  66. Sugiyama, L. S. (2015). Physical attractiveness in Adaptationist perspective. In D. M. Buss (Ed.), The Handbook of Evolutionary Psychology (pp. 292–343). Wiley.Google Scholar
  67. Sznycer, D., Tooby, J., & Cosmides, L. (2015). The logic of variation in social antagonism. Presented at the 27th annual human behavior and evolution society conference, Columbia, MO.Google Scholar
  68. Thomson, R., Yuki, M., Talhelm, T., Schug, J., Kito, M., Ayanian, A. H., Becker, J. C., Becker, M., Chiu, C. Y., Choi, H. S., Ferreira, C. M., Fülöp, M., Gul, P., Houghton-Illera, A. M., Joasoo, M., Jong, J., Kavanagh, C. M., Khutkyy, D., Manzi, C., Marcinkowska, U. M., Milfont, T. L., Neto, F., von Oertzen, T., Pliskin, R., San Martin, A., Singh, P., & Visserman, M. L. (2018). Relational mobility predicts social behaviors in 39 countries and is tied to historical farming and threat. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 115(29), 7521–7526. Scholar
  69. Tooby, J., & Cosmides, L. (1996). Friendship and the banker’s paradox: Other pathways to the evolution of adaptations for altruism. Proceedings-British Academy, 88, 119–144. OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS INC.Google Scholar
  70. Tooby, J., Cosmides, L., Sell, A., Lieberman, D., & Sznycer, D. (2008). Internal regulatory variables and the design of human motivation: A computational and evolutionary approach. In A. Elliot (Ed.), Handbook of approach and avoidance motivation (pp. 251–271). Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.Google Scholar
  71. Vigil, J. M. (2007). Asymmetries in the friendship preferences and social styles of men and women. Human Nature, 18(2), 143–161.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. von Rueden, C., Gurven, M., & Kaplan, H. (2008). The multiple dimensions of male social status in an Amazonian society. Evolution and Human Behavior, 29(6), 402–415. Scholar
  73. Watson, D., & Clark, L. A. (1999). The PANAS-X: Manual for the positive and negative affect schedule-expanded form.Google Scholar
  74. Willis, J., & Todorov, A. (2006). First impressions: Making up your mind after a 100-ms exposure to a face. Psychological Science, 17(7), 592–598.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Wilson, R. K., & Eckel, C. C. (2006). Judging a book by its cover: Beauty and expectations in the trust game. Political Research Quarterly, 59(2), 189–202. Scholar
  76. Wilson, J. P., & Rule, N. O. (2015). Facial trustworthiness predicts extreme criminal-sentencing outcomes. Psychological Science, 26(8), 1325–1331. Scholar
  77. Wrangham, R. W. (1999). Evolution of coalitionary killing. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 110(S29), 1–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Zaatari, D., & Trivers, R. (2007). Fluctuating asymmetry and behavior in the ultimatum game in Jamaica. Evolution and Human Behavior, 28(4), 223–227. Scholar
  79. Zaatari, D., Palestis, B. G., & Trivers, R. (2009). Fluctuating asymmetry of responders affects offers in the ultimatum game oppositely according to attractiveness or need as perceived by proposers. Ethology, 115(7), 627–632. Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychological and Brain SciencesUniversity of CaliforniaSanta BarbaraUSA
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyState University of New YorkPurchaseUSA
  3. 3.Copperleaf TechnologiesVancouverCanada

Personalised recommendations