"We found that many of the so-called conditional cooperators are confused and do not seem to understand the public-goods game":
New experiments challenge economic game assumptions, EurekAlert: Too much confidence is placed in economic games, according to research by academics at Oxford University.
While traditional economic and evolutionary theory predicts that people will typically seek to maximize their own success, the results of economic games have shown people to be much more altruistic than expected.
But a series of experiments carried out by evolutionary biologists at Oxford found that people are just as generous towards computers, which cannot benefit materially from cooperation, and that simply misunderstanding the game may lead to altruism in many cases. ...
The Oxford research involved setting up public-goods games of varying complexity with humans and computers, and solely humans.
Dr Burton-Chellew said: 'We found that many of the so-called conditional cooperators are confused and do not seem to understand the public-goods game, appearing to think that being generous towards others will make them money. We primarily demonstrated this by having them play with computers, which cannot benefit from this cooperation, and showing that people behaved the same way regardless.
'The upshot of this is that these games are not reliably measuring motivations and therefore may not be informative of real-world behavior. This has obvious policy implications, as well as implications for our understanding of the evolution of social behavior. Furthermore, it casts doubt on the idea that there are fundamentally different social-types of people. I think it is more useful to focus on when and where people cooperate, rather than identifying who does and does not cooperate, especially in the artificial world of the lab.
'In short, I would argue that there is too much confidence placed in the results of these economic games; too much confidence in their ability to measure social preferences.'