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Prosocial and antisocial behavior in economic games

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The study of social behavior has been boosted in the last years due to the use of laboratory and field experimentation with human subjects playing economic games. The now famous prisoner’s dilemma, public goods, dictator, ultimatum and trust games are among the economic games which became central for research ...

The study of social behavior has been boosted in the last years due to the use of laboratory and field experimentation with human subjects playing economic games. The now famous prisoner’s dilemma, public goods, dictator, ultimatum and trust games are among the economic games which became central for research on social behavior across a number of disciplines, from evolutionary biology and physics to nearly all the social and behavioral sciences.

One of the most significant insights obtained using such methodology is that humans appear to display other-regarding preferences. In few words, subject behavior in many economic experiments deviates from the predictions of the traditional homo-economicus model because humans are, at least in some circumstances, not fully self-regarding agents. Pioneering research focused mostly on prosocial behavior and how the observed “positive” deviations from self-interest could be accounted for. Altruism, generosity, egalitarianism and cooperation emerged as key terms in that literature. However, in recent years, “negative” deviations from self-interest are also becoming increasingly uncovered and, consequently, studied. Within this “dark”, antisocial side of human social behavior, observed patterns are at times labeled as perverse, spiteful, competitive, envious, or based on lies and negative reciprocity.

In sum, humans have moved from being considered as primarily self-regarding, to be later seen as prosocial and, more recently, as guided by a mixture of prosocial and antisocial motives. No doubt research using economic games has decisively contributed to these advances. It is well known that individuals are ready to sacrifice material resources in order to either increase or decrease the resources of unrelated others. This is true even in experimental environments where future returns or consequences from such behaviors are unlikely. That said, it has to be acknowledged that the antisocial side of human behavior is still overlooked in important research agendas across disciplines, even when applying economic games to study either ultimate or proximate forces behind social behavior. Moreover, prosocial and antisocial patterns are often studied in isolation, although they should be considered as the two, inseparable sides of the same coin.

The present Research Topic of Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience aims to bring a collection of research (both experimental and theoretical) and review articles on the nature of human prosocial and antisocial behaviors, broadly understood as those directed at helping or hurting others, respectively. The major requirement for works to be considered at this Research Topic is that economic games must be a key methodological tool of analysis. Interdisciplinary research investigating how, when or why prosocial and antisocial behaviors emerge and/or prevail is encouraged. This includes, but is not limited to, papers on the contextual/environmental factors favoring one or another type of behavior, their psychological and neurobiological (in ample sense, e.g., neuroendocrine, pharmacological, electrophysiological, etc.) underpinnings, and their ultimate/evolutionary causes. Special emphasis is made on the analysis of prosocial and antisocial behaviors in combination rather than in isolation (or as opposed to self-interest). Animal research is welcome if it provides important insights on the nature of human social behavior in economic games.


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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